Culture / Sporting Life

The Giver — Jamal Shead, College Basketball’s Most Unselfish Star, Builds Up His Houston Teammates Rather Than His Own Stats

By Deferring More Now, UH's Point Guard Aims to Make His Team Much More Dangerous in March

BY // 11.21.23

Jamal Shead could be racking up stats, collecting double doubles as easy as could be like college basketball’s headline-grabbing November supernovas. If such things really mattered to him. Instead, college basketball’s most unselfish star is building up his team rather than pumping up his stats. Shead is stacking up wins rather than an awards resume.

He is also the single biggest reason Kelvin Sampson’s sixth-ranked nationally University of Houston basketball team is off to another 6-0 start with four of those wins coming in a just-completed six day span that includes a Charleston Classic title.

“When your leader is that much of a giver, it’s so easy for the next guy to give,” UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson says of Shead. “He just embodies the servant leadership that bleeds over into everybody else. We knew that in order for us to keep evolving and do what we needed to do to keep moving forward, we had to get deeper. We had to play more guys.

“So we’re asking — everybody’s got to take a little less. . . His willingness to let everybody get comfortable is going to bleed itself to more guys are going to develop and be ready to punch when it’s time to punch.”

Shead only took eight shots in Houston’s first two games combined. He didn’t take more than seven in any game until a matchup with a dangerous Utah team, the only opponent to stay within 10 points of these Cougars so far. In many ways, Jamal Shead is the consummate point guard, but this is more than just looking for others first.

This is a conscious decision to make sure Baylor transfer LJ Cryer immediately gets comfortable in the offense. And Cryer has settled right in, averaging a team-high 15.8 points per game and winning Charleston Classic MVP honors. It’s about ensuring Temple transfer Damian Dunn feels like a big part of things too. It’s about knowing that Emanuel Sharp needs more shots too. And that the bench brigade of talented sophomore Terrance Arceneaux, Mylik Wilson Jr. and Ramon Walker Jr. need to feel like an important part of things.

Yes, Jamal Shead could be taking more shots. But he wouldn’t be building the kind of team he is now. Shead is completely invested in seeing his teammates get better. Partly because he knows it will boost UH’s national championship visions to another level, the goal that really drives him. And partly because that’s just who Jamal Shead is.

“You can’t quantify his value to us,” Houston assistant coach K.C. Beard tells PaperCity. “It’s that high. He’s such a connector. He brings guys together. . .

“He’s so patient with young players. We’ve got a lot of young kids. It’s easy to get mad at them. But Jamal doesn’t get mad. He always tries to help.”

Shead’s first choice is often to try and get his teammates going first during a game. He feels he’s getting better at knowing when he needs to grab the moment though. When he does need to exert his will on a game.

“I’ve tried to take on that leadership role and take it to heart that some games I need to be that guy to push us over that edge,” Shead tells PaperCity. “Sometimes I wasn’t that last year.

“If I want to be that guy for this team, then I’ve just got to push myself a little harder this year.”

That does not always mean by scoring. Or looking for his shot. The sequence everyone leaves Charleston buzzing over is Shead getting two steals on one play. He forces a turnover and then comes from behind to force another when Dayton recovers to get the ball back. At least until Shead strikes again.

That is the plan. That is why Jamal Shead is sharing more than ever. Deferring when he can to help everyone else in the rotation reach their potential. Building up his teammates rather an awards case.

Jamal Shead, College Basketball’s Completely Unique Star

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson may be capable of putting up a 20 point and 20 rebound game, but he’s not coming out of nowhere to make two steals in one play. He doesn’t have a highlight like that. No other All-American candidate in the game has a highlight like that. UH’s point guard already has another game this season with four steals in one half. In many ways, Jamal Shead is the most unique star in college basketball.

He doesn’t live in the highlights. He completely changes games more quietly, almost like a secret agent working in the shadows, grabbing the margins that others don’t even see.

Without making a big deal about himself.

UH associate head coach Quannas White shares the story of an encounter where Shead and he were talking to someone who called the Houston lifeline the best point guard in the country. Shead immediately responded with a “Well, I don’t know about that.”

“He’s so humble,” White tells PaperCity. “But he is one of the best point guards in the country. The best defensive guard in the country. And his work ethic has just increased.”

“You can’t quantify his value to us. It’s that high. He’s such a connector. He brings guys together.” — UH assistant coach K.C. Beard on Jamal Shead

University of Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson coached the Cougars’ opening night game over the University of Louisiana, Monroe
University of Houston point guard Jamal Shead is a passing wizard. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

So has Shead’s awareness of working smarter. After that double steal play, he asks out of the game for a breather. Jamal Shead never would have done that last season. But the point guard and Kelvin Sampson have worked out a deal where they’ve agreed that Shead needs to admit when he’s tired, to take the breaks that will make every minute he is on the court even more impactful. The idea is to end the regular season with Shead averaging about 30 minutes per game, leaving plenty for March. This is an agreement built on a foundation of supreme trust, one where the larger combined goal comes before any one moment.

“When we recruited Jamal, this is what we had envisioned for him,” Kelvin Sampson says. “That point guard position is important. This is our 10th year (at Houston) and we’ve had three point guards. Galen Robinson, DeJon Jarreau and Jamal.

“That’s it. That tells you a little bit.”

There are Fortune 500 companies that would kill for that kind of consistency. And Jamal Shead might be Kelvin Sampson’s most rock solid Houston point guard of all.

Even if the last person Shead wants to talk about is himself.

“We probably have, if not the best, a top five guard group in the country,” he tells PaperCity. “Not just me, LJ and Dam. Everybody in our guard group is really good. So we’ll be one of the top guard groups in the country again. And we’ll have a lot more people that can contribute to the game.”

That is the plan. That is why Jamal Shead is sharing more than ever. Deferring when he can to help everyone else in the rotation reach their potential. Building up his teammates rather an awards case.

“There is a sense that for us to be at our best, we’ve got to be deeper,” Kellen Sampson tells PaperCity. “We’ve got to trust more guys throughout the course of the year. . . The Big 12 is such a brutal, brutal, unforgiving league. We’re going to need new heroes every night. And that’s hopefully what we’re setting ourselves up for.”

The most constant hero is the one doing a big part of the setting up. As usual. Jamal Shead, The Giver, is making it all possible for this championship chasing Houston team.

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