Culture / Sporting Life

Jamal Shead Proves He’s Every Bit as Valuable as Zach Edey, Gets a Scott Van Pelt SportsCenter Lift In Another National Houston Moment

UH Wins a Top 10 First Place Showdown Because Kelvin Sampson's Point Guard Won't Let Them Lose

BY // 02.20.24

Bruising power forward J’Wan Roberts’ bothersome right knee is barking at him, two grueling games in three days having exacted their toll. Lifeline scorer LJ Cryer’s legs appear shot. Both are also fighting foul trouble for Houston, the second ranked team in America. And Iowa State is still coming hard, refusing to go away easy in this Top 10 showdown.

University of Houston basketball is running out of answers, running out of viable options. So Jamal Shead — the ultimate answer for Kelvin Sampson’s program — takes it upon himself to take over. Watching this play out court side, ESPN college basketball TV voice Fran Fraschilla comes to one conclusion.

“I would say, other than Zach Edey at Purdue, Jamal Shead is the most indispensable player in college basketball,” Fraschilla tells PaperCity after he’s off the air.

Houston’s 73-65 win over No. 6 Iowa State — in a Big Monday showdown that headlines the entire American sports landscape on a night when the NBA is off — drives this point home again and again. UH’s 6-foot-1 point guard is somehow just as impactful, just as game changing, as Purdue’s fawned over 7-foot-4, 300-pound mountain man of a center. Some are starting to catch on. Shead now has to be the near favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year honors.

But the truth is Houston’s point guard should be getting mentioned right up there with Zach Edey as a National Player of the Year candidate too. He’s that revolutionary in his own way, putting the University of Houston in the pole position to win the best basketball conference in America in its very first year in Big 12.

Kelvin Sampson makes the case for Shead in a live SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt interview, another huge national stage moment for UH delivered by the coach who’s done so much to transform the way people look at this university in The Third Ward. Sampson is great with Van Pelt, like he always is when he needs to be, noting how Shead sometimes seems to be forgotten nationally and urging people to actually watch his point guard play.

For you need to see Shead for a whole game to truly appreciate what he’s doing, how he’s pushing a roster with some flaws (and a big injury absence) to a 23-3 (10-3 Big 12) record. Shead’s teammates think they’re always going to win in no small part because they have Jamal Shead on their side.

“Just having him on the floor, knowing he can create shots for you and your teammates, it’s just kind of like having a safety net,” UH wing guard Emanuel Sharp says. “It just gives you so much confidence in yourself and your teammates.”

Having Jamal Shead on your side is like having Tony Robbins and Tom Cruise giving you motivational speeches on the daily. He just makes his guys believe. That’s Jamal Shead.

Indispensable. Invaluable. And one of one.

“If Kelvin Sampson was 22 years old and could go out on the court and play with the brain he has at 68, it would be Jamal Shead,” Fraschilla tells PaperCity. “Jamal is the embodiment of everything Kelvin Sampson stands for on the basketball court.”

Which includes winning over stats — always. Shead never pads his numbers, He takes over games when he has to, when his team needs him to do it. Like in this street fight of a Big Monday game with a ferociously tough Iowa State (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) team. Shead will play nearly 38 of the 40 minutes, score 20 of his 26 points in the second half (missing only two shots in the final 20 minutes), record five of his six assists and two of his three steals in the second half.

When everyone else on the floor is exhausted and feeling the pressure, Jamal Shead somehow raises his game to a new level.

“That’s why on a night like this, it’s nice to have the best point guard in the nation,” Sampson says afterwards.

Indispensable. Invaluable. And one of one.

“I would say, other than Zach Edey at Purdue, Jamal Shead is the most indispensable player in college basketball.” — ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla

The #2 Houston Cougars defeated the #6 Iowa State Cyclones Monday at the Fertitta Center
Jamal Shead makes the No. 2 in America go. And every coach that plays Houston is terrorized by him. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

On a night when Iowa State out rebounds Houston, out scores the Cougars in the paint and beats them in both fast break and bench points, UH still wins because it has Jamal Shead. And the Cyclones do not.

“The difference was Jamal Shead — simply,” Fraschilla says. “Because if you look at Iowa State, they out rebounded Houston, they played them toe to toe in terms of the toughness Houston usually brings. . .”

But Shead still makes sure the Cougars take over sole possession of first place in the Big 12, a full game clear of Iowa State, with five conference games remaining to decide the race. Shead scores nine straight points in one crucial second half stretch, keeping the charging Cyclones at bay just when Keshon Gilbert and Co. seem to be hitting every 3-point shot.

Shead gets help from Emanuel Sharp, who puts up 20 points in 29 minutes, and reserve guard Mylik Wilson, who plays down the stretch for Cryer and  hits a huge three with the clock ticking inside three minutes to give Houston the final cushion it needs. But Shead will either score or get the assist on 30 of Houston’s 45 second half points.

When everyone else on the floor is exhausted and feeling the pressure, Jamal Shead somehow raises his game to a new level.

There is heavy lifting. And there’s the kind of thing that could win you an Olympic powerlifting competition.

“Offensively, he makes everything go for them,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger says of Shead. “Defensively, he sets the tone for the defense. He commands the game. . . To play 37 minutes and 39 seconds and give what he gave on both ends, that’s amazing.

“Nothing short of amazing.”

Jamal Shead and Wishing Upon a Star

On a night when Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud returns to a packed, rocking Fertitta Center for the second straight game with all-star UH ambassador Tank Dell, a night when UH five star football pioneer Ed Oliver and Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser come back to campus, a night when Coogs turned basketball pros Quentin Grimes, Justin Gorham, DeJon Jarreau, Galen Robinson Jr. and Nate Hinton all stick around to see Sampson, Jamal Shead still stands out as the biggest star in the building.

This is his night. His arena. His game. His time.

The #2 Houston Cougars defeated the #6 Iowa State Cyclones Monday at the Fertitta Center
University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is happy after a big win. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

It may be easier to see how Zach Edey completely overpowers teams, but Houston’s point guard is doing it too. With the force of his skill. With the force of his will. With the force of his mind.

“I feel comfortable with the ball in my hands because I know everybody’s strengths,” Shead says. “And I can go create for everybody and put them in their best spots to be successful and make the game a lot easier.”

Playing with Jamal Shead is like having a cheat code. One no other team in college basketball possesses. Not even Purdue with Zach Edey. Fran Fraschilla, the analyst who may call more college basketball games than anyone and certainly the analyst who attends the most practices of anyone, can see it. No one does their homework like Fran, who jets around America and relentlessly prepares, scouts and observes like he’s still coaching. Now the rest of the college basketball world just needs to catch on.

Indispensable. Invaluable. And one of one. That’s Jamal Shead.