The questions came in rapid-fire succession, comparable to the fast breaks he’s run at breakneck pace as an indispensable member of the Oak Park and River Forest High School, Georgia Tech and New York Knicks squads during his basketball career.
A) How did it feel to lose to the Indiana Pacers in the NBA playoffs? B) Which NBA team do you like to beat the most? C) Who was your favorite basketball player growing up? And perhaps most importantly, D) Who cuts your hair?
Your Iman Shumpert answer key: A) It felt awful. I stayed inside the house for a couple of weeks. B) The Miami Heat. C) Michael Jordan, of course, and I also loved Jason Kidd. D) My brother cuts my high-top fade. It’s like Johnny Bravo’s cut which was one of my favorite cartoons.
Welcome to a sample of the “Q & A” portion of the Second Annual Iman Shumpert Youth Basketball Academy Camp, held in the OPRF field house, July 8-10.
While Shumpert, 23, deals with the daily scrutiny of the New York media during an NBA season, the fifth- through ninth-grade kids at his hometown camp served up questions with alacrity.
An interesting twist to the interview session: Shumpert would pass a basketball to each camper who had a question. The kid would follow the query by emphatically throwing the ball back to the 6-foot-5 guard. If he didn’t like a particular question he would ask for the ball back.
Towards the end of the spirited questioning, one camper, adorned in rec specs (think Kurt Rambis 2.0) asked the Knicks guard, “Have you ever flopped during a game?”
“Wow, tough question,” Shumpert replied. “Once during my rookie year, I was guarding this guy and he was pushing off on me. We were near the sideline so I decided to make it look like he pushed me into the crowd. I figured, ‘Why not? I’m a rookie.'”
The Knicks’ top defensive player may have flopped in that particular instance, but his camp clearly has not been a flop during its two-year existence. After drawing 65 participants last summer, Shumpert’s camp hosted 130 kids last week. Projections are even higher for the future.
“I always love coming back to Oak Park, seeing my friends and family, and working with the kids at my camp,” Shumpert said. “We want the kids to have fun and learn more about the game of basketball. But we also teach them about the importance of competitiveness. That’s a big part of the ‘Huskie attitude’ we talk about when it comes to basketball.”
Camp Director Quinn Peterson, who played hoops with Shumpert at OPRF, added: “The competitive part of basketball is what makes it fun. The camp allows kids to see Shump up close and get a sense of how truly competitive he is on the court.”
Whether supervising basketball drills, answering questions or taking pictures with the kids, Shumpert was fully immersed in camp activities. And he gives all the proceeds from the camp back to the Oak Park community.
Jaden Harris, a 10-year-old who attends Longfellow School in Oak Park, enjoyed his first experience learning about basketball from Oak Park’s own NBA star.
“I really liked the camp a lot and it was pretty cool that Iman did the basketball drills with us,” Harris said. “I got a picture with him, too. The coaches taught me how to shoot the ball better.”
While the campers had fun participating in shooting, ball handling and defensive drills along with playing in plenty of pickup games, the camp coaches (a plethora of current/former OPRF basketball players and coaches) relished their basketball reunion. Huskies hoops stars like Dan Barnes, Phil Gary, Lamont Sanders, Erick Locke, Antonio Foster, Maurice Starks, De’Angelo Speech and Andre Harris all worked the three-day event. Shumpert’s dad, Odis, and brother, Kasani, also pitched in plenty of help.
While in town, Shumpert spent an evening playing basketball and eating pizza at the River Forest Community Center with people from Opportunity Knocks, an Oak Park-based non-profit organization that serves young people who have developmental disabilities in the area.
“I think Iman enjoys spending time with us because he can just be himself, relax and have fun,” said Mike Carmody, founder and executive director of Opportunity Knocks and yet another former OPRF hoopster.
When he was in high school, Shumpert opted to use his athletic study hall period to work with special needs athletes. From that experience, a strong bond formed.
“I used to help special education kids with their gym class and just hang out with them,” Shumpert said. “I loved it. Coming in there every day, no matter how my day was going, those kids made me smile. Seeing people deal with adversity in such a positive way is inspiring to me. I love spending time with Opportunity Knocks.”
During his playing days at OPRF, Shumpert earned first-team all-state, led the Huskies to three conference titles and was named the West Suburban (Silver) Conference MVP in 2007 and 2008. The skilled swingman also played in the McDonald’s All-American game in 2008 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
“Iman is like a brother to me, so I was happy to help out with the camp,” said Gary, who played basketball at OPRF with Shumpert and then at Florida International University for coach Isiah Thomas. “Everybody [at OPRF] always knew Iman was a special player who could make it to the NBA,” Gary recalled. “The way he worked so hard in practice was what made him special.”
Shumpert’s unwavering work ethic has served him well during his stint with the Knicks. After being selected as the 17th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Shumpert endeared himself immediately to Knicks fans with his athletic, impassioned style of play featuring tenacious defense. On April 28, 2012, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee (the same day, same injury as Derrick Rose) during a playoff game against the Miami Heat.
On Jan. 17, 2013, a fully recovered Shumpert returned to the Knicks against the Detroit Pistons at the O2 Arena in London. Shumpert, who is averaging 8.3 points per game in his NBA career, finished off last season with a strong postseason performance against the Indiana Pacers including a monster dunk in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The one-handed putback slam off a missed jump shot by Chris Copeland went viral instantly on the Internet.
“When I was injured, it was frustrating not being able to play the game I love,” Shumpert said, “but I tried to stay positive and keep working hard so I could come back at full speed. That dunk against the Pacers was a good sign I was all the way back physically.
“I love playing for the Knicks. There’s a pressure [in New York] to win; that’s why the fans pay the big bucks to attend our games.”
While Madison Square Garden is his current hardwood address, the OPRF field house will always be Shumpert’s home court. His former head coach at OPRF, Al Allen, still marvels at Shumpert’s well-earned success and fame.
“When your best player is also your hardest worker, that’s rare and special,” Allen said. “That’s the kind of player Iman was at OPRF. I’ve only had that type of player maybe three times my entire coaching career.
“I used to help out at Michael Jordan’s basketball camps. The kids attended those camps basically to see Michael Jordan. Now these kids are attending Iman’s camp basically to see him. I’m very proud of Iman, but I’ll admit it’s all still pretty surreal to me.”
Allen added with a laugh: “He’s the only millionaire I know.”
Touching so many lives along the way to the NBA has been the real payoff for Shumpert.
“I have the best job in the world,” he said. “I’m living my dream.”