A lefty by nature, Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad maybe could have been another John McEnroe or Rafael Nadal if he hadn’t pursued basketball instead.
Muhammad dabbled with a racket and a little yellow ball once upon a time, when he and his younger brother, Rashad, hung out at the tennis courts while their father trained their older sister, Asia.
“I played a little bit,” he said. “I’m not bad, but I haven’t played in a while. I love the sport. It’s really unique, different from basketball because it’s all on yourself. It’s not a team game, but it’s really fun to watch.”
Muhammad went on to a famed AAU/prep career, one provocative collegiate season at UCLA and an NBA career with the Wolves in which he recently seems to be finding his place.
Home-schooled most her life, sister Asia Muhammad bypassed a college career and turned tennis pro at age 16 after a successful junior career. She has spent the past nine years doggedly chasing the dream on the pro tours around the world.
She has moved from 593 on the World Tennis Association singles rankings during her rookie season in 2007 to 151 this week, from 810 in doubles then to 45 now after she and partner Taylor Townsend reached the 2016 U.S. Open quarterfinals.
This month, Asia Muhammad won a WTA tournament main-draw match for the second time in her career and reached the round of 16 in a Brisbane, Australia, event before she lost in straight sets to Karolina Pliskova, who is ranked No. 6 in the world and was the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up. She lost her qualifying match for the Australian Open that starts Sunday morning in Twin Cities time.
Now 25 years old, she has nearly $373,000 in career earnings, including as little as $66 one week and as much as nearly $37,000 for last year’s U.S. Open performance.
“She has been on the grind for a while,” Muhammad said. “It really has been up and down for her, but she’s really starting to hit the peak of her career. I’m really happy for her.”
Each follows the other’s career. Muhammad has a phone app that helps him follow her matches wherever she is in the world and she calls him “so supportive” after a childhood when all three siblings for a time were competitive with each other on the basketball court.
“He’s literally my biggest fan,” she told wtatennis.com recently. “When he comes to watch me play, he gets so into and wants me to do well. But it’s also good because when I’m away from tennis, I can watch him play and it’s a break.”
Muhammad last picked up a racquet briefly last summer, but said he hopes to play more this summer, perhaps in Los Angeles rather than in the heat of Las Vegas, where he and his sister were raised.
She played at Andre Agassi’s Boys and Girls Club and used to hit regularly with Agassi and Steffi Graf there.
Muhammad played his sister in their youth, but only after she made a concession.
“She used to play me with her left hand — she’s a righty — just to give me a chance,” he said. “She was so good, she was practicing a lot then. I’d get a couple games off her, but she was just really good.”
But Muhammad regularly beat his younger brother, even if they argued a lot.
“My forehand was really good,” he said. “My serve’s pretty good, but it’s something that’s really hard. You really have to work on it to get a groove and have a good serve. If I still played, I would have been a pretty good player.”
• A role player the past two seasons on a Golden State team that won both an NBA title and 73 regular-season games, Harrison Barnes is now the featured player for a Dallas team stuck in the Western Conference basement.
“He wanted a situation where he could grow, where he would take on more responsibility and have to develop more skill and ability to create,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “So he has worked extremely hard. He’s a great a worker and one of our most important culture guys and he has done extremely well. There are very few I’ve enjoyed working with more than him because he’s so diligent and consistent with his work ethic.”
Sunday, the Wolves see Barnes and the Mavericks for the second time in six days. Barnes scored 30 points in a 101-92 loss at Target Center on Monday.
• Philadelphia coach Brett Brown remembers his team doing its due diligence on a UCLA guard named Zach LaVine in 2014 and saw everything everybody else did and he, too, wondered what if …
“You always wondered when was the bouncy athlete going to translate into something on an NBA stage who could get to the rim and could get this shot off,” Brown said. “He had a pretty jump shot. I don’t know if you remember Rex Chapman’s shooting, but he had that bounce. So now you see him come into the NBA, he’s got a bounce and Thibs [coach Tom Thibodeau] is turning those guys loose and letting them play and make mistakes and play together.
“His evolution with [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Andrew] Wiggins is well on track.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 1 p.m. at Dallas
Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. at San Antonio
Thursday: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Clippers
Sun. FSN, Tue. FSN Plus, Thu. TNT
Player to watch: Chris Paul, Clippers
Blake Griffin is out injured, but the 12th-year pro just keeps going, all the way to 10th place on the NBA’s all-time assists list. The only players who reached 8,000 assists in their careers faster than Paul were John Stockton, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
“It really kind of happened on the fly because I was getting a step slower.”
Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki on his signature one-legged, fallaway shot that the Wolves will see on Sunday afternoon in Dallas only six days after they last faced him.
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves