Gopher junior Jamal Abu-Shamala must sleep pretty well at night.
Today, sports fans are equally as likely to read about recruiting violations and players on academic probation as they are to hear about double-doubles and NCAA Tournament bubble teams. Abu-Shamala’s basketball odyssey lends the sort of peace of mind to the sports fan that might make one feel that their attendance at a college basketball game is more than just a guilty pleasure.
Starting his Minnesota basketball career as a walk-on in the fall of 2005, Abu-Shamala played himself into a scholarship during his freshman season. Since that season, the 6’5” 210-pound Shakopee, Minn. product has been a role model for scads of young basketball players across the state hoping to play Division I college basketball.
“It has really been my goal since for as long as I can remember to play Division I basketball,” Abu-Shamala said. “I saw playing here at Minnesota as my top goal; to play here in front of all the people I grew up with and all the fans. To accomplish that goal is one of the top achievements of my life.”
Abu-Shamala’s high school playing career ended with a state championship with his Shakopee team in 2005. That year, Abu-Shamala was named MVP of his team while averaging nearly 20 points per game and staking claim to a bevy of post-season accolades, including a nomination for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball award and being named to the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ first team All-Metro squad.
Abu-Shamala is quick to deflect praise about his own accomplishments and instead chooses to sing the praises of a Shakopee community that has worked to build up its basketball program.
“They have quite the program there, now. My senior year was Shakopee’s sixth straight time going to the state tournament,” Abu-Shamala said. “Some people have worked very hard to get the program pumped up by building up the youth programs and getting kids interested in basketball. People like my high school coach Bruce Kugath, along with [Gophers season ticket holders and Shakopee boosters] Bob and Judy Teachaim are pretty much responsible for getting the program to where it is today.”
Growing up in this basketball hotbed, a young Abu-Shamala was not always considered a top-flight talent.
“In ninth grade, four guys in my grade got moved up to JV or Varsity, and I had to stay down on our ninth grade team,” Abu-Shamala said. “That’s where I really started to grow. I had excellent coaching and I just developed my skills. The next year I was starting on varsity.”
Following his sophomore season at Shakopee, Abu-Shamala played with current teammates Blake Hoffarber and Travis Busch for the Minnesota Magic, an AAU traveling team. Abu-Shamala points to this time as the first where he was confronted with the idea that his goal of playing Division I basketball had a chance to become reality.
“I remember seeing [former Minnesota coach] Dan Monson at some of our games. We knew that he was there mostly for [current Kansas University standout] Cole Aldrich, but we were always hoping to stand out a little bit during the game and maybe catch his eye,” Abu-Shamala said. “Growing up in Minnesota and watching the Gophers, it was always my hope to come here. I think most kids in Minnesota want to play for the Gophers just because they’ve watched the team growing up and they want to stay close to home to play in front of their friends and family.”
That summer and over the final two years playing high school basketball, Abu-Shamala drew interest from D-I programs at Rice, West Virginia, San Francisco, Boise State and Iowa State, among others. It wasn’t until after Abu-Shamala led Shakopee to the 2005 state championship that he was afforded the opportunity by Monson to walk-on at Minnesota.
During his time at the U,’ Abu-Shamala has morphed into a precision perimeter shooter who boasts the second-highest three-point shooting season in school history after going 44 for 102 (43.1%) from beyond the arc last season. This year, the junior has started 17 of Minnesota’s 26 games while averaging 14.7 minutes per game.
“It’s been our goal all season to make the NCAA Tournament and that’s still our top goal,” Abu-Shamala said about this year’s team. “We know we’ve got to play well at home and steal a game or two on the road, but we’ve got 11 guys that can all play. We’re taking it one game at a time.”
The work ethic and perseverance that have been so valuable to Abu-Shamala at the U’ are still apparent on a February evening in a nearly-empty Williams Arena. Abu-Shamala works on his outside shot, takes free throws and practices coming off screens. Before he’s satisfied and ultimately retreats down to the Gopher locker room for a shower, his gray Minnesota t-shirt is drenched with the sweat that earned him a chance to play high school varsity basketball, the physical tools to be an integral part of a state championship team at Shakopee, the perseverance to earn a Division I scholarship at Minnesota and the shooting touch to make him one of the deadliest outside shooters in the Big Ten Conference.
It looks like Jamal will sleep pretty well tonight.
story by Doug Vose, athletic communications assistant