PULLMAN – One day after Washington State’s 64-62 loss to Washington in the first round of last season’s Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball tournament, D.J. Shelton was in the weight room. It was the first step in an offseason that has seen the forward add more than 25 pounds to his 6-foot-10 frame.
“I changed my body a lot. I was 230 pounds last year, now I’m like 256,” Shelton said.
Shelton’s physical metamorphosis wasn’t prompted by prodding from coach Ken Bone, nor was it spurred by talent evaluators at the professional level. Rather, it was the result of a mental transformation engineered by Shelton, one that has the fifth-year senior ready to lead a team he can finally call his own.
“I have a lot of moments where I’m like, ‘Dang. I’m here, I’m a starter on the Washington State basketball team,’ ” Shelton said. “I can be proud of this and I can make the best of this. A lot of people don’t get this opportunity, and I’m blessed.”
The athletic ability was never in question for Shelton, whose family tree is filled with relatives far outside the spectrum of most people’s sporting ability. Uncle Lonnie Shelton was a star at Oregon State and played for a decade in the NBA – including with the champion Seattle SuperSonics (1978-82); uncle Damion Shelton and cousin LJ played professional football. Cousins Marlon, Tim and Titus each played NCAA Division I basketball.
But when a player’s career is more notable for the sheer number of teams he played for than for his exploits on the
court, it can be difficult for a leadership style to develop at the same rate as his basketball skills.
Shelton played at four high schools, had a redshirt year at Cal State Fullerton and a season at Citrus College. With those other programs, Shelton wasn’t around long enough to develop relationships, much less take ownership.
Until he found the Cougars.
“I think he’s been able to grow as much as any person in our program during my time at WSU,” Bone said. “I think we’re seeing a different D.J. Shelton than when we brought him here a couple years ago, and that’s because of the stability of him being here for two-plus years.”
The results from those physical and mental changes are already apparent. Shelton’s game is showing more refinement in the low post, and his already sweet shot has gotten even sweeter. More important, the senior post finally has the credibility with teammates to hold them accountable.
“He’s always had that mentality, but I feel like this being his senior year, he’s really stepped up and he’s really worked on his game,” guard Royce Woolridge said. “He knows that he’s a senior now, and we’re all younger than him. We take after him, and he definitely has taken on a leadership role this year.”
The new and improved Shelton will play a critical role for the Cougars with the departure of Brock Motum – a two-time Pac-12 scoring leader and WSU’s leading rebounder last season. While picking up Motum’s scoring slack will be a communal effort for the Cougars this season, Shelton will bear much of the rebounding burden.
There have been other improvements as well, although it may be hard to see the difference.
“I would foresee the astute basketball fan recognizing the difference,” Bone said of Shelton’s development. “It may not be what he does as much as what he’s not doing. Maybe he’s not traveling, maybe he’s not charging. He’s just slowing down the game and not making as many mistakes. So in my mind he’s really elevated himself as a basketball player, but a lot of those things a typical fan just doesn’t see.”
With so much on his shoulders, perhaps the biggest challenge for Shelton will simply be staying on the court.
“I’ve really got to be smart on reaching and getting dumb fouls too early,” Shelton said. “That’s something new for me because of the depth. I’m going to have to adjust to it and play physical and not get fouls – own the paint, but in a smart way.”
Fri. 8CSU Bakersfield7 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sat. 16Lamar9:30 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Thu. 21at Gonzaga6 p.m.Root Sports
Sun. 24TCU3 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Thu. 28vs. Butler*11 a.m.ESPN2
Sat. 7at IdahoTBA
Sun. 15Pepperdine5 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Wed. 18San Francisco State7 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sat. 21UTEP5:30 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sat. 28Mississippi Valley5 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Thu. 2at Arizona7 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sun. 5at Arizona State3 p.m.ESPNU
Wed. 8Colorado6 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sun. 12Utah4 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Wed. 15at Stanford7 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sat. 18at California1 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Wed. 22Oregon State7 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sun. 26Oregon4 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sat. 1Washington3 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Wed. 5at Colorado6:30 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sat. 8at Utah5 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Wed. 12California8 p.m.ESPNU
Sat. 15Stanford4 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Thu. 20at Oregon State6 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Sun. 23at Oregon6 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Fri. 28at Washington 7:30 p.m.Pac-12 Networks
Thu. 6USC8 p.m.ESPNU
Sat. 8UCLA8 p.m.FOX Sports 1
Sat. 15Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas
*- Old Spice Classic, Orlando, Fla. 5 KEYS TO SUCCESS