Note: This profile & interview is from May and is being republished due to national signing day on Wednesday.
Shead Will Impact Both Ends Of The Floor
2020 recruit Jamal Shead caused a stir on Monday when he announced that he was committing to the Houston Cougars. Because of his announcement, Shead (pronounced shed) helped the Cougars leap into the top 5 in 2020 recruiting, according to 24/7.
Since he committed to UH, I’ve had a chance to get to know Shead through an interview that stretched over a few days. In that time, I’ve come to learn a few truths about this top-tier prospect:
Shead is a ball hawk. He’s an elite defender and a quick, tough athlete that gets into the lane and makes plays. Numerous recruiting analysts consider Shead one of the best playmakers in the country. He’s exactly the kind of recruit that Kelvin Sampson routinely develops into an elite player.
Shead is direct. He’s to the point and doesn’t talk just to talk. He’s concise with his words and answers questions unequivocally.
In our sound bite society, we expect athletes to ramble and avoid being pinned down. It was refreshing to deal with someone that just answers questions honestly.
GoCoogs: The recruiting website 24/7 says that you’re the #6 player in Texas. What did you think when you saw that?
Jamal Shead: I was excited, I’ve never been ranked like that until this year.
GoCoogs: Why do you deserve it?
Shead: I don’t know if I do, but I’ve proven myself on high stages and I just tend to keep working!
Shead comes from a stacked basketball-playing family. His sister, Autumn, played at Texas Wesleyan before transferring to Texas Lutheran in order to be closer to home. His brother Jaylen played two seasons at Cal Poly before transferring to Texas State. In his first season in San Marcos, Jaylen scored eight points a game to go along with 5 assists and four rebounds.
Jamal says he’s learned a lot from his brother and sister about playing the game.
Maybe it’s those relationships that make the family-oriented Cougar program so appealing to him. Shead believes Houston’s family-first attitude is evident in the actions of UH players and staff and that he wants to be part of that.
In comparison, I asked him about all the big-time head coaches watching his games at the Nike EYBL events he’s been attending. He didn’t drop names or get excited. “It was a lot of pressure! Lots of it!” is all that Jamal would say.
The names he could have dropped (but didn’t): Mike Krzyzewski, Tony Bennett, Bruce Pearl, Bill Self, Ben Howland, Kermit Davis, Shaka Smart, Scott Drew, Buzz Williams, and of course, Kelvin Sampson.
With so many top coaches around, it was surprising that Shead decided to commit to the Cougars so early. I asked him about that and he pointed to the relationships he’s built and the expectations inside the program.
GoCoogs: Was Kellen Sampson your main recruiter?
Jamal Shead: Coach Kellen Sampson recruited me. He’s a cool, funny guy and kept it straight forward with me. I like that about him and that showed something about UH, too.
GoCoogs: What attracts you to the way Coach Sampson plays defense? What makes you want to play for a coach with such high expectations?
Shead: Everything about the way he coaches attracted me! Coach Sampson can only make me better a basketball player and a man.
Shead continues to elevate his game as he plays more of these elite EYBL circuit weekends. This spring, he’s averaged 12.9, 7.0 assists, and 2.7 steals in the EYBL. He’s 3rd in steals and 4th in the ‘league’ in assists.
GoCoogs: What is it about playing point guard that excites you?
Jamal Shead: Always being the focal point.
When pressed further, he said, “some guys are better at scoring than me so why not put them in position? Why not put us in position to win?”
Last weekend in Dallas, Shead averaged 9 assists a game for the weekend against 2.5 turnovers. But he shot just 34% (25/74) and was abysmal from three-point range (3/29). His steal numbers (2.2 spg) and rebounds (4.0 rpg) were fine. To his credit, he’s open about his shooting troubles.
“I need to improve my jump shot and my ball handling,” he explained when I asked what part of his game needed work. Shead says Coach Sampson wants him to work on his consistency – inside and out of the gym – by approaching every aspect of his life with the same level of effort and positivity.
In most of the EBYL events, Shead’s shooting has gotten better the further he gets into the weekend. Is it nerves? In the four games on Saturday and Sunday, he shot 56% from inside the arc (19/34).
In Indianapolis earlier this month, his final 3 games were excellent: 18 and 14, 24 and 7, and 10 and 7. He shot 49% on the weekend (18/37) and 67% from two-point range (14/21). In four games, he had 28 assists against only five turnovers.
GoCoogs: Which UH player would you compare you to?
Shead: I say more Galen (Robinson) as I’m more of a leader. I’m not the best scorer but I can score.
When asked about what other traits of his that he considers elite, Shead didn’t hesitate and screamed “DEFENSE!!” He believes that everyone has to step up at certain times and his opportunities happen in facilitating and on defense.
Recruiting analysts and coaches agree that he is an elite defender and could be the best on-ball defender in the 2020 class. Everything I’ve heard about him says he’s a natural fit for a Kelvin Sampson team.
GoCoogs: Was it a big deal to find a team that matches your style?
Jamal Shead: Yes knowing I can come in and make an impact.
GoCoogs: So why does the UH style of defense set up well for you?
Shead I haven’t learned the UH defense yet but the intensity on defense I liked.
GoCoogs: And why does your defense stand out from other players?
Shead: I just think I’m more intense than others on defense.
Plenty of others are recruiting Shead – A&M has gone after him pretty hard since hiring Buzz Williams. Williams met with Shead a few days after getting to College Station. Two weeks later, he made an in-home visit to the Manor rising senior.
Williams is the only coach other than Sampson to get an in-home. With so much attention paid to Shead in the first 3 weeks of Buzz’s tenure, it’s evident he was a top priority for the new Aggie coach.
After his big weekend in Indianapolis, Shead has also attracted the attention of Tech’s Chris Beard and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey. But Shead says he’s firmly committed to the Cougars.
GoCoogs: How many times have you visited the UH campus?
Jamal Shead: I’ve been about three times and also to some games.
GoCoogs: Has anything stood out to you?
Shead: The city stood out. I loved everything and especially Coog Nation!
Some portions of the interview were edited for clarity and length.