Behind the ball: Khalil Shabazz

Khalil+Shabazz+is+only+a+freshman%2C+but+he+is+already+excelling+in+his+position+as+point+guard+and+has+started+in+14+of+15+games.
Khalil Shabazz is only a freshman, but he is already excelling in his position as point guard and has started in 14 of 15 games.

Khalil Shabazz is only a freshman, but he is already excelling in his position as point guard and has started in 14 of 15 games.

Jack Lambert

Jack Lambert

Khalil Shabazz is only a freshman, but he is already excelling in his position as point guard and has started in 14 of 15 games.

Hanson Lee, Sports Senior Reporter

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Jack Lambert
Khalil Shabazz is only a freshman, but he is already excelling in his position as point guard and has started in 14 of 15 games.

Freshman phenom Khalil Shabazz has been lighting up the basketball court for the Wildcats at point guard this season. Shabazz credits his game and rise in reputation to that of Rainier Beach’s top-notch basketball program.

“It was the best, best high school in America,” Shabazz said. “We won championships, the coaches are passionate about the sport so they just want to get you better, and it’s just all about getting better everyday.”

Shabazz’s Journey

Growing up, Shabazz participated in football, tennis, gymnastics and swimming.

“Basketball was one of [the sports] that I ended up liking the most, so I stuck with it,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz reflected on the influence being in Seattle had.

“Seattle, it’s like a basketball community, so there [are] gyms everywhere and everybody’s willing to hoop,” Shabazz said. “It wasn’t that hard for me to get into the gym or go to late-night and play basketball with my friends.”

While attending Rainier Beach, Shabazz won state championships his freshman and junior years. Shabazz recorded the second-highest scoring game in Rainier Beach history with 47 points. The only person who scored more was Dejounte Murray, who now plays for the San Antonio Spurs.

During his junior year, Shabazz was the starting point guard for Rainier Beach. After losing to Garfield the previous year, Rainier Beach was finally the underdog going into the semi-final matchup against Garfield.

“They got up early on us and it was tough – everybody thought we were gonna lose. And then something sparked and we just took over,” Shabazz said. “We got to the hotel later on that day [after winning] and were like, there’s no way we’re losing state. We’re going to win this game and we’re going to be state champions.”

Rainier Beach ended up blowing out O’Dea in the title game by 21 points – what Shabazz calls his biggest Rainier Beach win.

Rainier Beach Impact

Over the years, Rainier Beach High School in Seattle, Washington has built a steady reputation for producing NBA talents such as Dejounte Murray, Nate Robinson, and Jamal Crawford. Rainier Beach’s rich history in developing NBA talent has inspired young players like Shabazz to follow in their footsteps.

Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs – “He’s honestly like a big brother, I’m closest to him,” Shabazz said. “We grew up together, he played basketball with my older brother and they’re the same age, so I was always around and he always just made sure that he looked out for me.” Shabazz and Murray were teammates at Rainier Beach when Shabazz was a freshman and sophomore and Murray was a junior and senior.

Shabazz reflected back on a big moment during his sophomore year at Rainier Beach. Murray was a senior on the team when they were playing Garfield for the district title at Seattle Pacific University.

During a timeout, Murray noticed the young player becoming a bit overwhelmed and came to his aid. Taking Shabazz’s head in his hands, Murray told Shabazz something that has stuck with him to this day.

“Yo, Khalil man, you got this bro, just keep hoopin,” Shabazz recalled. “Don’t worry about the crowd, don’t worry about what anybody is saying, just keep playing your game.’”    

Jamal Crawford, Minnesota Timberwolves – “He’s like one of the older guys, the OGs, so me and him have a great connection,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz first met Crawford in seventh grade. He’d gone to the high school to shoot hoops with his big brother Shadeed, and in walked Jamal Crawford.

During their state runs at Rainier Beach, Crawford texted Shabazz with advice about what he and his teammates needed to do better during their state runs at Rainier Beach.

“I’m starstruck. I’m like, ‘Oh my god,’ this is Jamal Crawford. This is crazy – he’s in here acting like a regular guy and he’s an NBA superstar,” Shabazz recalled. “Im scared, I’m shaking, I walk up to him and I’m like, ‘Hey Jamal. How you doin?  and he’s just having a full-fledged conversation with me like he knows me.”

Nate Robinson, Guaros de Lara, Venezuela“He’s like an older brother as well. He’s way older than me, but he still comes back to the gym,” Shabazz said. “I have him on speed dial, me and him can talk whenever about anything, me and him just have that connection.”

Shabazz first met Nate Robinson on the court during his sophomore year. He was at the high school gym with his brother and Robinson walked into the gym, along with Jamal Crawford and other notable NBA players.

Once again, Shabazz was starstruck, even more so that his older brother was on a first-name basis with NBA players and asked Shadeed to introduce him.

“Same thing as Jamal – he talked to me like he knew me my whole life, just showed a lot of love,” Shabazz recalled. Robinson “talked to me about basketball, showed me pointers, and gave me life-lessons and it was just crazy.”

“Once you go through Beach it’s like a family and you’re stuck with that family for the rest of your life,” Shabazz said. “It’s just all about giving back and that’s what they’ve done.”

Brotherhood

Aside from his NBA role models, Shabazz also has his older brother, Shadeed Shabazz, to look up to. Shadeed Shabazz graduated from Rainier Beach in 2015 and now plays basketball for Iowa Western Community College.

The younger Shabazz often reflects on growing up playing basketball in their backyard and learning from each other.

“That’s my guy, that’s really my brother,” Shabazz said. “It’s a blessing that we’re both able to continue on the next level and play college basketball.”

Together the Shabazz brothers hold the record of the most state titles in state history with five between the two of them.

“It’s just legendary, me and my brother’s name will live at Rainier Beach for the rest of our lives,” Shabazz said. “It’s a huge accomplishment, and we’re both extremely happy that we chose to end up going to Rainier Beach.”

Khalil Shabazz recalled winning state as a freshman and his brother was a senior. Rainier Beach was up by a mere two points with 10 seconds on the clock against Eastside Catholic when the older Shabazz stole an inbound ball and won the game -and with it the state title.

“After the buzzer went off… He [was] on one side of the court and I [was] at the other side, and we just ran into each other,” Shabazz said. “We have this legendary picture -he’s holding my head and we’re both crying and it’s crazy, it’s so emotional.”

Life at Central

CWU didn’t begin recruiting Shabazz until his senior season.

Shabazz said that recruiters, including CWU showed up at the game where he scored 47 points, but that it wasn’t until the summer after his senior year when he started being heavily recruited by CWU.

Coming to CWU “was probably the best decision that I’ve ever made in my life,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz said he was drawn to the history of CWU and the basketball program. He also said when it comes to playing styles, CWU and Rainier Beach are similar.

“It’s a family environment, and when you come here and you play everybody shows love,” Shabazz said.

The impact Shabazz has had on the basketball court for CWU this season can’t be overstated and hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches. In his first 15 games for the Wildcats, Shabazz has recorded 217 points, including a 28-point game against Cal State Bernadino in his CWU debut.

“He’s averaging about 14 points, a few steals, a few rebounds per game, so that’s very impressive for a freshman,” assistant coach Drew Harris said.  “To be doing that your first year while you’re still learning so much, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”  

Aside from his performance in-game, Harris noted the positive impact Shabazz has had on the team in practice as well.

“He has a great personality and high energy,” Harris said. “Every single day he comes into practice he’s the most vocal player, which you rarely see as a freshman.”  

Statistically, Shabazz is leading the Wildcats this season with 13.7 points per game and 2.5 steals per game, and is currently second on the team averaging 4.7 rebounds per game and 3.2 assists per game.

Getting the opportunity to learn from older teammates including fellow Rainier Beach alumni Naim Ladd, Fuquan Niles. Point guard Marc Rodgers has also been an important aspect of Shabazz’s growth over the course of the season.

“I came in and had to fill big shoes, so it’s been a learning process,” Shabazz said.  Rodgers is “teaching me all the little pointers to become better and to work on yourself everyday to come in and lead the team.”

Shabazz said Rodgers has been an important mentor, both on and off the court. The senior point guard took Shabazz under his wing from the moment he arrived.

“Since he signed here we always talk. I always pull him to the side when he’s doing good and when he’s doing bad,” Rodgers said. “I’ve definitely tried to pass as much as I know to him as often as I can.”

Rodgers ended his basketball career earlier this month after suffering a hip injury that left him unable to finish his senior year. Despite his injuries, Rodgers remains at practices with the team and has stepped into more of a coaching role, which has given him the opportunity to observe Shabazz’s play.

“As far as energy goes, he never gets tired, he’s always in a good mood, he’s always ready to play,” Rodgers said. “He kind of just brings a spark and kind of brings some youth to this program, and gives us some hope currently and for the future.”

Rodgers said he’s working with Shabazz on ball management and shot taking.

“He‘s incredible and he blows my mind everyday when I watch him,” Rodgers said.

Now that he has a real shot at being the starting point guard, Shabazz specified what he’s been able to work on, that has helped him.

“[I’m] working on getting up shots, picking Marc Rodgers brain, picking Naim Ladd’s brain, and just trying to make sure my part of the deal is taken care of before I try and lead these guys,” Shabazz said. “I can’t lead if I’m not ready myself.”

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Behind the ball: Khalil Shabazz