by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree

“Have you seen the Don C hats now?”

We’re talking fashion and trends and the enthusiasm is building as Iman Shumpert thinks back on the cool styles of his neighborhood. He’s fired up.

“There are a lot of trends that are dope, but not at that particular time,” he says. “Maybe it was brought out too early and people weren’t ready. Maybe people need a fad that’s going to branch into that.”

The Don C hat has become a vehicle for Shumpert’s vocal thesis.

“The Don C hat is nothing but a Buck 50 hat—it’s what we used to wear in Chicago,” Shumpert says. “But in Chicago, we had the snakeskin, watch strap on the back and then you put your watch clock where the team logo is now. When I came to Atlanta wearing it, everybody laughed at me. They clowned me. I talked about it when I first came to the Knicks and guys were like, ‘Man you better not, just stop it. You better not wear that, it’s foolish! You got that snakeskin on your hat; you’re trying to do too much!’

“Basically Jay-Z pops up in it in the ‘Otis’ video and you have people saying, ‘Oh, did you see the Don C hats?’ I’ve been there. Like I said, bridging your way into it. Now they have the hats with the watch clock and no snakeskin on them, just the regular snapback with the clock. Soon, they’re going to merge the two.”

***

Why so serious?

Iman Shumpert doesn’t have time for bullshit or repetitive questions. I learned that very quickly when we met at the adidas Super shoot this summer. This was before the Stephen A. Smith reported beef between him and Knicks owner James Dolan about the Las Vegas Summer League. Due to prior engagements (a summer camp for kids and a League-sponsored trip to China) Shumpert was available for one game in Vegas. He told reporters that he had no problem with playing, as the Knicks reportedly wanted to take a long look at him as a point guard. Complaints about Summer League from vets with starts in the Association are hardly new—I heard several players complaining about being forced to play in Vegas during the few days I was in attendance. Bottom line: Nobody likes to be told what to do during their offseason.

When we met in a tiny room at Siren Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood—the site of the shoot—Shumpert was finishing off a box of food from Roscoe’s, surrounded by Knick-colored balloons and adidas sneakers. He had a strawberry patch at the front of his luxurious flat top and reflected on the past season and his return from a serious ACL/meniscus injury he sustained at the end of his rookie season. “I was able to bounce back from a major injury and a lot of people told me they were impressed that I came back faster than they thought,” he says. “I caught my rhythm at the end of the year.”

By that point, Iman sensed that the confidence his teammates once had for him was re-born. “It was cool to have guys start to defer to me at the end of the year, they could trust me to make something happen—to make something out of nothing,” he says. “I was really good at that my first year. I didn’t have a training camp and it was obvious that I had come in the middle of a lockout year. I didn’t have as much experience as anyone else, but they knew if all fails, make something out of nothing. I felt like toward the end of the year, they trusted me to do that again and that made me smile. Headed to this next year, I’m just focused on getting better and improving my game any way I can. I know that they look at me now and want me to score more. This year, I wasn’t consistent; I can be real with that. My coaches have told me that I haven’t scored consistently like they’ve wanted me to but next year I’m looking to do that.”

After a rookie season where he averaged 9.5 points per, Shumpert’s scoring average dropped to just under 7 points per game as he tried to return to form post-injury. But he upped his three-point percentage nearly 10 points to 40 percent, and when the Playoffs rolled around, his scoring was back up to 9.3 points in 12 starts.

He expects to breakthrough during his third season in NY. “I don’t see it as my role changing or anything like that,” he explains. “The breakout games this year will be an everyday thing. I just want a breakout game to look like 30, or 35 points instead of a breakout game being 18. My expectations are high, but I’m starting to see it’s not something I can’t achieve, something out of reach. This is an improvement I should be making.”

The Knicks have made several additions since we spoke, including Thursday’s announcement of the signing of PG Beno Udrih. At that time, Shump said he was pleased with the Knicks’ core group.

“I have total trust in the Knicks organization to make the improvements and sign the guys needed,” he says. “When the team gets there for training camp, we’ll know what we have. I got a ton of confidence in this team. I felt like last year was a total disappointment and a total failure that we didn’t at least make the Eastern Conference Finals, that’s where we saw ourselves as the second seed and we didn’t take care of business.”

When I asked him which teammate has had the most influence on him as a player, there was no hesitation. “Carmelo has helped my progression just because I’m always talking to Melo and he’s teaching always, even when he doesn’t think he is,” Shumpert says. “For him to be in the League so long and having dealt with so many different coaches, different trainers, different situations—being injured, coming back, getting snubbed out All-Star games. He’s always telling stories and I don’t even think he realizes that he’s teaching. I’ve learned so much from him by just talking to him every day or just getting advice. Let alone being able to play against him in practice, guarding him. And then just having him give me that confidence during the game, a lot of times he’ll pull me to the side and tell me he needs me to score. I need you to shoot the ball. I need you to get me a stop. He puts a lot of confidence in me. When you’re looking for a veteran that could put a battery in a young guy’s pack, he’s one of those guys.”

Shump says the practice battles between him, Melo and JR Smith can hit epic levels at times, resulting in him being hated on when the practice gear comes on.

“I think there are a lot of young guys who come into the League, when you guard somebody like that, you back up and give them two steps of respect,” Shump says. “Like, Melo is the scoring champion…let me back up a step before he blows by me. I’m not doing that. And while I’m up on him, I’m going to talk as much trash to him as I can. That’s another thing I like to do, I like to talk a lot of trash, especially in practice. So I’m going to talk about him if he doesn’t have his arm sleeves or his headband on. I have a lot of fun. We battle a lot. I get everyone out their comfort zone during practice. You got to love that. It’s basketball.”

That’s what I love about Shumpert, he really doesn’t give a fuck about the norm and that’s why I didn’t catch feelings and nearly laughed when he snapped at me. He’s real and he’s authentic—a 23-year-old with massive expectations for himself.