As is the case on so many days and with so many major-college basketball players this time of year, Shavon Shields and his Nebraska teammates spent much of Wednesday in one airport or another, traveling from Lincoln to New York City for Friday’s game against Cincinnati in the Barclays Center Classic.
Stressful enough, especially considering the throngs headed here and there for Thanksgiving. But with Nebraska on break for the holiday it was not as stressful as it will be on other occasions this season for Shields, a senior forward who last year juggled his classwork and athletic responsibilities so effectively that he became the first player in program history to be named a first-team Academic All-American.
“It is tough, but you’ve got to do it,” he said of his workload. “You’re a student-athlete, so there’s obviously an academic piece to what you do.”
Well, it’s obvious to him, at least.
A biological sciences major, he earned a 3.73 grade-point average last year, and said his overall GPA is “over a 3.5.” Twice an Academic All-Big Ten selection, he is on schedule to graduate next May.
In the meantime the 6-7 Shields has fashioned a basketball career that has seen him score 1,196 points through the Cornhuskers’ first five games this season (four wins), 18th on the school’s all-time list. He averaged a career-best 15.4 last year, and his norm this season stands at 13.8 heading into the game against the Bearcats Friday night on ASN. He also leads the Huskers in rebounding (5.6), as he did the two previous seasons.
Shields is the son of a 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, former Kansas City Chiefs guard Will Shields, who is also a Nebraska grad. Yet the younger Shields’ career stands on its own merits.
What he doesn’t want to do is stand pat.
The Huskers, an NCAA Tournament team in 2013-14, lost their last nine games in 2014-15 to slump to 13-18. After the fifth of those defeats, a 28-point rout by Iowa in Lincoln, coach Tim Miles went so far as to ban his players from their posh locker room/lounge for two weeks.
“Coach will bring (the slump) up every once in a while, but I don’t think that does us any good,” said Shields, who is in his third year as a captain. “We have a new team, and it’s a new year, and it doesn’t really help us at all this year, dwelling on what happened last year. The guys who played last year need to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen this year.”
Junior guard Andrew White III leads Nebraska in scoring, at 16.2 points a night. Shields is the only other one in double figures, but the Huskers, who list seven freshmen and three sophomores on their 15-man roster, have 10 guys averaging more than 10 minutes a night.
“I think people are really starting to learn their roles, and buying into Coach’s defensive mindset – defense first,” Shields said. “Defense wins games and championships, or whatever. I think a lot of people are settling in more to the college game, and adjusting to that.”
He settled in long ago, in every respect. The second of three children born to Will and his wife Senia, a social worker, Shavon said his parents always made certain that he toed the line as he grew up in the Kansas City suburbs. He can specifically recall his dad talking about the importance of putting in an honest day’s work, something the elder Shields embodied.
He never missed a game in the course of his 14-year career with the Chiefs, making 12 Pro Bowls and being named a first-team All-Pro three times. Named Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2003, he and Senia became legal guardians seven years later to Shavon’s AAU teammate, Willie Cauley-Stein, who later played at Kentucky and was a first-round pick of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings this past June.
They made sure he took care of business, too.
“(Education) is a top priority,” Senia told thepostgame.com in January 2012. “When it comes to that, I am a drill sergeant.”
Shavon claims not to have needed any such prodding; he had long before come to understand how important schoolwork was.
And that’s still the case, no matter what airport he might find himself in.