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November 2, 2007

Shumpert reaching new heights

OAK PARK, Ill. As the eyes of curious classmates focused upon a potential college and NBA star, Iman Shumpert stared into his past.

"What, are you looking at the picture of that sixth grader up there?" a teacher said jokingly.

Nearly four years and seven inches ago, Shumpert possessed a frame only Frankie Muniz would envy. The evidence hangs in the weight room at Oak Park and River Forest High School as a reminder.

"He was so tiny," said Al Allen, the Huskies' head coach.

A growth spurt and multiple conditioning sessions later, Shumpert stands at an imposing 6-foot-4 - a far cry from the skinny 5-7 freshman Allen moved to the varsity part way through Shumpert's first season.

"Iman (pronounced EE-mon) is the poster child for basketball at this school everyone wants to know Iman Shumpert," Allen said. "He needs to realize that everything he does in this building will be magnified. And rarely does he mess up."

Recently, Shumpert (the No. 26 prospect in the Rivals150) announced his decision to attend Georgia Tech next fall on local Chicago television. He completed his transformation from unheralded guard to elite national prospect, but not without overcoming obstacles.

When Shumpert broke his elbow last season after running into a referee on an opponent's fastbreak, major colleges veered off the recruiting trail. Rather than accept an offer from a mid-major program, Shumpert waited for an opportunity to showcase his talents on a larger stage.

And after his performance at a LeBron James sponsored event this summer, major colleges came calling again, vaulting Shumpert from a low-end Top 100 prospect into the top 30.

Top 10 Point Guards for 2008

PLAYERSTATECOLLEGE

1. Jrue Holiday CaliforniaUCLA
2. Tyreke Evans PennsylvaniaUndecided
3. Brandon Jennings VirginiaArizona
4. Willie Warren TexasUndecided
5. DeAndre Liggins NevadaKentucky
6. Iman Shumpert IllinoisGeorgia Tech
7. Kemba Walker New YorkUConn
8. Jerime Anderson CaliforniaUCLA
9. Courtney Fortson N. CarolinaArkansas
10. Dashan Harris FloridaTexas A&M

It was worth the wait.

"I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision for myself and my family before I jumped into anything," Shumpert said.

Shumpert's overnight catapult into the top tier of recruits created some doubts among those who follow him.

"I couldn't care less what people say or write about me," Shumpert said with a shrug. "I produce on the court and I'm confident in what I do."

But it's what Shumpert does off the court that makes him even more special.

While NBA aspirations exist, Shumpert is a rare breed of standout teenage athlete who thinks beyond a future at the professional level. His main goal for his senior year is simple: elevate his current cumulative grade-point average of 2.98 beyond a 3.0, which would qualify him for his prep conference's All-Academic Team.

Shumpert offers his time to the school's physically and mentally disabled students from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m. each day. It's gratifying for Shumpert, who takes solace in helping those who will never have the opportunities he currently possesses.

"He doesn't just go and stand there," Allen said. "He's hands-on with those kids. You can tell they really appreciate him being there."

"Sometimes, you'll come to school and just not be in the mood, you know?" Shumpert said. "But after working with those kids, there's nothing you can hang your head about."

Shumpert possesses enough self-confidence to be described as a walking anti-depressant. While Allen listed his numerous basketball skills, Shumpert interrupted.

"You forgot to say, 'He can pass the ball.' You said I can rebound (well) twice."

That confidence has helped Shumpert raise his game both on and off the court. It's good practice. A whole new set of challenges awaits him in Atlanta.

Jeff Bartl has covered high school sports in the Chicago area for five years. He can be reached at jeffreybartl@yahoo.com.



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