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By Brad Spencer
It was just four years ago that Iman Shumpert was weaving through defenses in an OPRF High School basketball uniform. On Monday night, the Oak Park native donned a New York Knicks uniform and tried to give the team with the best record in the NBA — anchored by the reigning league MVP — a run for its money. Shumpert’s return to the Chicago area and his debut at the United Center ended with his favorite childhood team handing his current NBA team a 104-99 loss.
The former Huskie, who graduated from OPRF in 2008 and spent three years at Georgia Tech before being selected 17th overall in the first round of the NBA draft last summer, finished with six points, four rebounds and a block in just over 17 minutes of action. But the rookie’s return to the area trumped his paltry stat line for the night.
“It’s great being back home,” he said before the game. “I was able to get some Giordanos pizza and see some friends. Just seeing the city again means the world to me.”
Shumpert had about 15-20 family members and friends on hand for the game. Lifelong fans and Oak Parkers Mike and Barb White and their children, Mike Jr. and Megan, turned up adorned in the burnt orange and OPRF memorabilia with matching Knicks hats. They held up placards welcoming Shumpert home.
“We’ve been following Iman since he was in seventh and eighth grade,” said White. Barb purchased the tickets and surprised the family at Christmas. “We’ll be back to see him again when the Knicks return in April.”
Shumpert recalled a time when as a young boy he traveled “right down Madison” to the United Center with his aunt and sat courtside. “It was a Celtics game and I was just crazy with joy. That’s the first real memorable one. I don’t know how old I was but I was happy, I was out-of-control happy.”
The 6-foot-5 point guard wasn’t too happy after Monday night’s game, but it had nothing to do with his dismal stats. It had everything to do with the loss itself.
“Iman is all about the team. He’s an incredibly selfless player,” said Al Allen, who coached Shumpert at OPRF. “He knows he’ll get more minutes down the line and he accepts that. If the team is winning, he’s happy.”
It was certainly a shooting fest as both teams had five players finish in double-digit scoring. Shumpert’s teammate Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 21 points, while the Bulls’ Derrick Rose, also a Chicago native, led all scorers with 32.
Ironically, Shumpert was matched up with fellow rookie Jimmy Butler several times in the game. The two guards worked out together in the offseason and currently share the same agent.
“He’s a really good defender and he’s athletic as anybody,” said Butler of Shumpert. “He plays with an extreme amount of confidence and that’s really what you got to have in this league.”
Butler went on to gloat about Shumpert’s selfish play.
“He knows that if you win championships [people] are going to remember that more than you averaging 25 points per game, and that’s the way he goes about everything. Get better but not just for yourself, also for your team. He’s always been a team player.”
As far as rookie’s go, Butler had the up on Shumpert on this night. He finished with eight points, played nearly 29 minutes, and his team — most importantly — walked away with the win.