Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith are the nation’s best freshmen point guards and they will play in the NBA in seven months.
Wichita State’s Landry Shamet is the nation’s best freshman point guard who will be a sophomore point guard.
“He’s that good because of his makeup, his mental makeup, his ability to take coaching and how every day he is so focused on improving,” Shocker assistant coach Greg Heiar said.
Shamet’s path into the national conversation will accelerate next season when the Shockers debut in the top 10 of the rankings. On Sunday, he will play one of his final games as a bit of an unknown nationally, still more the guy who’s replacing Fred VanVleet than the guy who succeeded VanVleet.
That will change, perhaps during Sunday’s game against second-seeded Kentucky and its NBA-bound freshmen Fox and Malik Monk. Perhaps next season. Without a doubt, however, that time is coming for Shamet.
“Cal’s done a great job of that, developing guys in one or two years to get them NBA ready,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said of Kentucky coach John Calipari. “It takes those guys one or two years to develop NBA-ready bodies. Our guys maybe have not as high a starting point, so we have to develop a little more. But we’re sending some. We just haven’t had the lottery picks yet. We may be working on that.”
Consider Shamet one of those possibilities.
His size (6-foot-4) is ideal for a point guard and his shooting stroke is picturesque. He redshirted last season to recover from a stress fracture in his left foot, moved to point guard in mid-January and his success fueled a 16-game win streak that took WSU into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s really good,” Calipari said. “He’s fearless. He’s not afraid, can shoot it, runs their team.”
Shamet’s NCAA Tournament debut wasn’t his typical effort. He missed 4 of 5 three-pointers and committed four turnovers, three in the first half. He played with more calm and purpose in the second half and helped awaken WSU’s offense with drives to the basket on his way to eight second-half points.
“I just didn’t play very well,” he said.
Shamet came to Wichita State from Kansas City’s Park Hill High to play with VanVleet and Ron Baker. The injury spoiled that scenario. Shamet watched and learned from the sideline. VanVleet’s ability to always play the game at his preferred pace provided a first-class tutorial on keeping a game organized.
“He’s just so patient, so under control,” Shamet said. “Nobody sped him up. He was just always in complete control, and that’s one thing I’m still trying to get a handle on, just staying at my pace, going at my speed and controlling the game.”
Shamet gets closer to those standards each day.
He averages 11.2 points and 3.3 assists. He leads the Missouri Valley Conference and is 17th nationally with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.95. He directs an offense that Marshall calls the best of his coaching career, one that averages 81.5 points a game and ranks No. 14 nationally in offensive efficiency at 1.19 points per possession.
Shamet understands those numbers grow from team accomplishments.
Conner Frankamp’s three-point shooting, Shaq Morris’ inside scoring and the inside-out versatility of Markis McDuffie give Shamet excellent tools to work with, and there’s much more at other positions. It doesn’t work smoothly, however, without a point guard.
Shamet possesses the mental game to make it go, even after working at shooting guard for much of the season. His height helps pass and shoot over smaller defenders. Heiar sees a devotion to learning and organizing that he compares to Baker and VanVleet.
“He sees how it fits into his game and into the game of basketball and into our system as well as anybody we’ve ever had here,” Heiar said. “Fred and Ron had that knack, as well. Let’s say they’re guarding the ball screen one way — he understands how to read it, at a young age, and see the other three guys as well. If we’re in motion (offense), he knows how to move without the ball.”
Much of Marshall’s success is attached to point guards. He rebuilt the Shockers starting with Clevin Hannah and continued with Joe Ragland, Malcolm Armstead and VanVleet.
None of them took on Shamet’s duties as freshmen. Hannah, Ragland and Armstead transferred to WSU. VanVleet understudied with Armstead before taking on a significant role late in his freshman season.
Shamet earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors and Freshman of the Year.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself to play either the one or the two,” Shamet said. “I felt ready after maybe one game, where it was kind of somewhat more of a learning experience, and then getting confidence in my teammates and them getting confidence in me.”
Wichita State vs. Kentucky
- When: About 1:40 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
- Records: WSU 31-4, UK 30-5
- TV: CBS