PULLMAN — D.J. Shelton may have set some sort of world record when he attended seven schools in seven years, but the Washington State basketball player has found a home in Pullman.
A chilly home, but a home nonetheless.
“I ‘layer up’ every day,” said a smiling Shelton, who spent his entire life in sunny Southern California before moving north to play for the Cougars two years ago.
Palouse weather conditions aside, Shelton has been quite hot on the court lately.
The junior forward has hauled in 10 or more
rebounds in three of the past four games, and he recorded a career-high six assists Feb. 2 at Oregon State. He produced his first double-double with the Cougars last Saturday, notching 13 points and 10 rebounds against eighth-ranked Arizona.
“He’s rebounding like a madman,” WSU guard DaVonté Lacy said.
“He’s developed a lot since last year,” said Brock Motum, Shelton’s partner in the frontcourt. “The outside shooting has improved tremendously.
“He’s started to attack rebounds rather than just block out and let the guards come in and sweep out the rebounds. He’s a really underrated passer.”
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Shelton said he’s grateful that WSU coaches have freed him up to expand his game this season. Last year, as a junior college transfer in his first season with the Cougars, Shelton pretty much planted himself on the low block. He averaged 4.7 points and 2.9 rebounds coming off the bench.
“Last year, it was just fitting in the program,” Shelton said.
This season, Shelton has started every game and bumped his averages to 5.3 points and 5.9 rebounds. His assist total has risen from 12 to 31, and after shooting no 3-pointers last season, he’s nailed 15 of 36 this year. His 41.7 shooting percentage on 3-pointersis the best among WSU’s regular 3-point shooters.
Shelton is hardly a finished product. His field-goal shooting percentage has plummeted from 61.5 a year ago to 36.3 this season as he’s moved further from the basket, and he’s last among WSU regulars with 57.1 percent shooting at the free-throw line.
“He has not been nearly as effective in the paint as last year,” Cougars coach Ken Bone said.
Bone is quick to credit Shelton with responding to the coaching staff’s instructions to hit the glass more effectively.
“Very coachable,” Bone said. “He’s probably in our offices as much as anybody on the team.”
Shelton’s uncle, Lonnie Shelton, was a quality rebounder during a 10-year NBA career, half of which was spent in Seattle. Shelton credits his parents (Davon and Lashanda) for their support through the years, but Shelton said his game improved when he moved to Bakersfield to live with his uncle as a high school senior.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” Shelton said. “Like, ‘He went to the NBA. I want to go to the NBA just like him.’ ”
Shelton played at two high schools in Rialto – he cited a desire to follow a buddy to the second school, as well as a coaching change – and he left East Bakersfield after the basketball season so he could graduate back home at Rialto High. He said schools such as Creighton and UTEP offered scholarships, but so-so grades forced him to accept a ride at Cal State Fullerton.
Unhappy during a redshirt season with the Titans – “I thought I should have started” – he transferred to Citrus (junior) College in Glendora. Shelton said he arrived at Citrus “with a chip on my shoulder” after starting out in NCAA Division I, but he said his junior college experience was invaluable on and off the court.
Shelton joined seven teammates in jumping to four-year schools after Citrus placed second at the state tournament. Shelton said he earned 20 credits his final semester at Citrus to earn his Associate of Arts degree so he could spend three seasons with the Cougars.
Shelton helped WSU advance to the College Basketball Invitational finals last season, one year after the Cougars reached the NIT Final Four. Shelton stops short of ruling out an NCAA tournament appearance for the Cougars (11-12, 2-8 Pac-12), but if the Big Dance is out of reach, Shelton knows where he wants to go.
“The NIT would be great,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s too fond of the CBI.”
Washington State (11-12, 2-8 PacIFIC-12 Conference) at UCLA (17-6, 7-3)
7 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 710-AM, 104.3-FM.
All-time series: UCLA leads, 101-14. The Bruins have won seven in a row and 16 of 17.
Royce Woolridge G184.108.40.2066.573.5
Larry Drew IIPG220.127.116.112.356.7
Scouting report: The Bruins start three freshman and a senior transfer, but they’ve meshed well enough to go 7-2 in games decided by five points or less. The Cougars are 1-6 in such games after blowing yet another second-half lead Thursday at USC. Drew, a senior transfer from North Carolina, easily leads the Pac-12 and ranks among the nation’s best with 7.9 assists per game and an assist-turnover ration of 4.5. “Larry’s done a great job of taking care of the basketball,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. Drew’s buzzer-beater gave UCLA a 59-57 win over Washington on Thursday. Muhammad, likely headed for the NBA after one college season, is a marvelous talent. Lacy, a former Curtis High School star, has overcome a thumb injury well enough to score 36 points in the past two games. He scored just 33 points in the previous eight games. UCLA leads the Pac-12 with 76.0 points a game; WSU leads in defense (61.0) but ranks last in offense (63.7). The Cougars, tied for last in the conference, figure to have trouble matching up with the 6-foot-9 Anderson and the 6-6 Muhammad on the perimeter.
Next: 7 p.m. Wednesday, vs. Oregon State, Pullman (Pac-12 Networks).Howie Stalwick, contributing writer