Culture / Sporting Life

Jamal Shead ‘Adopts’ Jarace Walker, Other UH Freshmen — One of College Basketball’s Best Leaders is Already Stepping Forward

After Learning From DeJon Jarreau, Houston's Point Guard Takes His Responsibility Seriously

BY // 06.15.22

During the first team meeting of the summer, the first team meeting of what many are projecting to be a historic season for the University of Houston basketball program, Jamal Shead quickly takes charge. The point guard does it by stepping forward to help a freshman.

Jarace Walker, the five star forward who is the highest-rated recruit of the Kelvin Sampson era, seems unsure of the timing of the schedule the coaches have given. Walker asks for clarification on what time he needs to be somewhere. Shead tells Walker he’s got him — and that the UH players will go together so that everyone is on time.

“It’s just me letting him know we do a lot of things together,” Shead tells PaperCity. “Just show up at least 30 or 40 minutes early and we’ll go over there together and do what we got to do. We’ll always do it together.”

It sounds like a simple thing. And it is in many ways. But it’s also an indication of how Jamal Shead, who started last season as something of an uncertainty and finished it as one of top point guards in America, is leading these Coogs, a clear national championship contender.

“I followed Deek’s lead,” Shead says of former UH point guard DeJon Jarreau, who pushed the 2020 Final Four team when Shead was a freshman. “And now it’s my turn to lead. (DeJon) showed me, say we work out at 6:30, show up at 5:50. Then when everybody’s ready to go, we’ll go as a team.

“Things like that.”

Walker appreciates Shead showing him the way. And where to be at what time.

“When in doubt, if I don’t know what to do, I know exactly who to look at to figure out what I need to do,” Walker tells PaperCity. “Just having leaders that have been to the big games that I’m trying to get to and be fortunate enough to play in.

“With their maturity level and experience, it’s definitely easy to learn and just follow in their footsteps.”

It seems like Shead and Walker have already bonded. During the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) golf tournament that benefitted the UH basketball players held at The Club at Carlton Woods earlier this week, Walker always seemed to be in Shead’s golf cart as they zipped around the course. Or somewhere close to the gregarious point guard.

It may have went somewhat under the radar nationally, but Jamal Shead established himself as one of the better player leaders in all of college basketball last season. And how much he leads this UH team is apparent at Carlton Woods.

When Jake Headrick, the former Samford University coach who organized and ran the NIL golf tournament for the UH players under his Campio Sports events company, needed someone to say a pre-meal prayer and deliver a few remarks, he turned to Shead. And whenever Headrick needed to call all The Houston players together, he’d ask Shead to do it.

Shead also sets a business-like approach for the day, telling his teammates, “It’s NIL, but it’s basically a job.” It’s probably no coincidence that the Cougar players went on to earn praise for their professionalism during the tournament. The UH players seemed to take their responsibilities as ambassadors seriously, going from hole to hole to see each group of paying golfers and spending plenty of time with anyone who came up to them in the dining room afterwards.

“The effort of the players,” Headrick says of what stood out. “I told somebody the same way that these guys are on the court, they’re the same way off the court. Great guys.

“And so for that reason, it has been a joy to work with those guys.”

University of Houston Cougars defeated the East Carolina Pirates 79-36 Saturday, January 22, 2022 at the Fertitta Center. Kyler Edwards had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Jamal Shead uses little runners and floaters in the lane to great effect for Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Shead’s personality and sense of responsibility seems to make him a natural for this leadership role. When a group of UH players is lingering outside in the triple digit temperatures, he playfully chides them. “What are guys doing just standing out in the heat?” Shead says, shaking his head.

Then, the point guard leads the group into the air conditioned comforts of the Carlton Woods clubhouse.

Little things. Big leader.

“I feel like it’s more of my personality,” Shead says of taking on the leadership mantle even more now. “I like helping out any way I can really. If that means being the leader, I just try to do the best that I can.”

Jamal Shead is so committed to being a good leader and putting the team first that he tells KPRC’s Chancellor Johnson and myself — two of the reporters who covered the golf tournament of a UH team that’s going to be more profile than it ever has been in Sampson’s tenure — that he doesn’t even know if he’s going to start for this deep, talent packed Houston team. With a straight face.

(Quick note: Shead is definitely going to be a starter.)

How Jamal Shead Gave Marcus Sasser Support By Giving Him Space

Fellow difference-making guard Marcus Sasser, whose decision to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to UH vaults Kelvin Sampson’s program onto the short list of national title favorites, is quieter. Sasser leads more by the example of how hard he works to better his game and the swagger of feeling like he’s the best player on the court. In contrast, Shead doesn’t mind grabbing a microphone.

Shead also knows his guys. And he knew well enough to leave Sasser along when the guard was making his NBA decision.

“I had no clue what he was about to do,” Shead says when I ask if he had any leaning on which way Sasser would go before the guard’s social media return announcement. “I just said whatever your decision is, I support it full fledged.

“Because if your dream is to get to the NBA. . . That’s a lot of our dreams. If you got the chance for you to do that, I’d love for you to take it.

“I’m glad he’s back. But even if he wasn’t to come back, I wouldn’t be mad.”

It’s hard to imagine Jamal Shead ever getting that mad. This point guard always seems to be smiling. On this day, with new people (UH alumni, boosters and backers) to meet, he seems to be in his element.

“I feel like it’s more of my personality. I like helping out any way I can really. If that means being the leader, I just try to do the best that I can.” — UH point guard Jamal Shead 

But he’s always still giving lessons to freshmen like Walker, four star forward Terrance Arceneaux and four star guard Emanuel Sharp.

“Honestly, this is probably the easiest part of the year,” Shead says of this session of summer workouts and pickup games. “So far. We haven’t gotten to the real conditioning month. That’s going to be. . .

“After July is when it really, really starts up. Once we come back off our little two week break (between UH summer school sessions), that’s when it really starts.”

Shead turns to face Jarace Walker, who is sitting behind him in a six seat stretch golf cart. “Hope you’re ready for that,” he says to the super talented freshman. “It’s light right now. But look out.”

Walker just nods his head, following UH’s leader.

For more of Chris Baldwin’s extensive, detailed and unique insider coverage of UH sports — stories you cannot read anywhere else — bookmark this page. Follow Baldwin on Twitter here.

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