Considering that he’s arguably the fastest rising prospect in college basketball recruiting and frequently out of town attending camps and leagues, arranging interview time with OPRF guard Iman Shumpert can be a bit like navigating a labyrinth.

The procedure includes a preliminary call to his Uncle Tony Shumpert, a screener of sorts, who then gives you two phone numbers to call on successive hours. Lastly, Uncle T reminds you since he gave you an exclusive not to give out the phone numbers to anybody else. All that’s missing in this oddly intoxicating game of “Searching for Shumpert” is a secret password.

Welcome to the world of Iman Shumpert, the most highly regarded area recruit since former Fenwick star Corey Maggette, courtesy of his meteoric rise as a high school basketball phenom. Of course, it’s important to mention the aforementioned “contact for interview” process was not an act of hoops hubris by the decidedly soft-spoken, engaging young basketball star and his close knit family, but rather a protective countermeasure against the occasionally invasive realm of college recruiting.

Amid all this July Madness and ESPN-driven “Who’s Now” mentality, Shumpert credits his parents, Odis and Latanya, along with OPRF coach Al Allen and AAU coach Matt Ryndak for helping him maintain a sense of equanimity.

Shumpert, who enjoys writing poetry, listening to rap music and going to movies during his limited free time, has become a well known baller on the playgrounds, in the bleachers, and on the ubiquitous college hoops recruiting web sites visited by college hoops fanatics.

Currently rated No. 15 on Scout.com and No. 32 on Rivals.com, Shumpert transformed from recruiting sleeper to keeper via the avenues of old fashioned hard work and AAU exposure from Ryndak.

“I know a lot of guys with better natural talent, but a lot of people don’t know how hard I’ve had to work to get where I am,” Shumpert said. “People are going to have different opinions and rankings about me and my game, but I know if I don’t reach my goals it’s on me. I think my biggest asset is my hunger to want more.”

Shumpert’s appetite for developing his considerable potential, which included 5 a.m. workouts to facilitate his skills catching up with an eight-inch growth spurt earlier in high school, has drawn the interest of over 40-50 Division I programs hoping for a commitment.

Rumored “front runners” include Illinois, Marquette, Georgia Tech and Clemson. Notre Dame, Duke, UCLA, North Carolina, Bradley, Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin and several other schools also have shown varying levels of interest in Shumpert. Basically, any school with a cool mascot, snappy fight song or power conference affiliation has the 6-foot-4-inch combo guard on their recruiting radar screen.

“I’ve handled [the recruiting process] well because I have tried not to focus exclusively on the basketball standpoint,” Shumpert said. “I’m considering a lot of factors like obviously a school’s academics, campus, my teammates and the coach.”

Although Shumpert intimated he has narrowed his list down to “five or 10” schools, he doesn’t want to identify any specifically quite yet. Ideally, he hopes to announce his choice before his senior season begins with the Huskies.

“I’m not rushing into anything,” Shumpert said. “I’ll try to make a decision before the school year starts, or at least before basketball season begins. I’d like to have a clear mind so I can focus on my game and my grades.”

Coming off a 23-6 season including a West Suburban (Silver) Conference title, Shumpert leads a versatile, athletic OPRF squad focused on another conference crown and deeper run in the state tournament. Daniel Barnes, Adam Taylor, Blake Austin and Marcus Acree will play key roles next season for the Huskies.

Shumpert, who averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game last year, returns with particularly strong motivation after a hyper-extended elbow prematurely ended his junior season. At 6-4 and 186 pounds, Shumpert is a very rangy, athletic perimeter player with outstanding court vision and a lethal jumper.

“Iman is a very confident player,” said Allen, who has put off retirement one more year to coach his young star. “He has such a passion for the game. Coming from my perspective, I’ve seen the entire student population [at OPRF] rally around this kid and come out to games cheering for the Huskies.”

Fully recovered and focused, Shumpert believes the Huskies will have the Dog Pound student section rocking this winter en route to a special season.

“One of our biggest things last season was that we wanted to put OPRF basketball back in the spotlight,” Shumpert said. “This upcoming year, Dan [Barnes] and I want to gain even more respect. We should be a quicker and more mature basketball team.”

In the interim, the smooth yet powerful guard is crafting quite a “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” story for his return to the OPRF campus in the fall. He attended the prestigious NBA Top 100 Camp held at the University of Virginia. While being mentored by current and former NBA players like Dominique Wilkins and David Lee, Shumpert formed tight bonds with fellow campers like Samardo Samuels (Louisville recruit), Larry Drew (UNC recruit) as well as fellow Chicagoans Mike Dunigan and Matt Humphrey.

“It was great to be selected as a player for the Top 100 NBA Camp,” Shumpert said. “I enjoyed talking with the other guys. It was definitely good because we talked about recruiting. We could relate to each other.”

In mid-July, Shumpert will play in Orlando for Full Package, an AAU team which essentially put him on the map in terms of attracting major college basketball programs. Earlier this month, Shumpert participated in the Steve Nash Skills Academy and the LeBron James Camp, personally soaking up valuable basketball insights and advice from the two NBA All-Stars.

While Shumpert has been interacting with NBA players former and present via camps all summer, some of the Chicago Bulls offered advice for him as well.

“I would tell him to follow his heart,” said Joakim Noah, the Bulls first-round draft pick. “A lot of people are going to be in his ear, but they might not always have his best interests at heart. The people with your best interests in mind should be you, your family, and people you trust. Just believe in yourself, don’t take anything for granted and enjoy it as much as possible.”

Bulls Basketball Operations Chief John Paxson, a former Notre Dame star, believes players at any level ultimately need the successful mixture of talent and character.

“Recruiting has changed in some respects because AAU is so important now,” Paxson said. “Kids can play in a couple of tournaments during the summer where just about every college is represented to see them play. It’s very competitive. When I played in high school, we just played at the park and against rival high schools during the summer. In some ways, it’s a lot easier to build a high school team that way. From my chair, obviously we want talent, but we also like guys who get it and know what it’s all about.”

Due to his tremendous leadership, work ethic and self confidence, Shumpert clearly “gets it” by Paxsonian or any other standards, and soon enough big time college basketball may find out as well.

Until then, if you want to catch him while you can, check out a Huskies game this winter or maybe just say hello to Uncle Tony.

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...