The junior transfer sparking Bison toward playoffs
Standing courtside prior to practice, it becomes apparent that North Dakota State’s team captain and leading scorer doesn’t quite fit the archetype of an emerging star. It might even require some imagination to see how this former junior college standout could become a Division I mainstay. Watching any recent NDSU men’s basketball game, however, hearkens back to an old adage: looks can be deceiving.
Such is the case for point guard Vinnie Shahid. The 5-foot-11-inch junior from Minneapolis has followed an atypical trajectory to find himself in Fargo. At each turn, Shahid has silenced detractors who can’t look past his height.
Shahid’s basketball journey began in the parks of the Twin Cities at the age of 3. He quickly fell in love with the game. “Ever since then, it’s been a part of my life and everything I do every day,” Shahid commented.
By the time he reached high school, Shahid’s stature had become a major talking point. “There are definitely times where people have said, ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t for you. You’re too small. You’re too this. You’re too that,'” Shahid said. “You hear excuses all the time.”
Even hoisting a state title and winning 31 of 32 games as a senior wasn’t enough to fully eradicate doubt. In spite of the negative attention, Shahid drew interest from head coach Cory Fehringer, then at Williston State College. Fehringer relocated to Western Nebraska Community College, and Shahid followed suit.
In Scottsbluff, Shahid was listed at 5 feet, 10 inches tall, but made an instant impact for the Cougars. Throughout his two seasons at WNCC, Bison head coach David Richman became interested in the sharpshooting scorer. Shahid averaged 18.4 points per game as a sophomore and was soon packing his bags for Fargo.
Shahid had always yearned to return closer to home, and NDSU proved to be an ideal fit. “When I got here on my official visit, my teammates and the coaching staff really did a good job of making me feel at home,” he stated. “It felt like I was back in the Twin Cities going to high school again. It was a really comfortable feeling for me, so I decided this was the place for me and my family.”
Even as a rising Division I player, Shahid still draws comments on his height. “I still get that. I don’t really pay attention to it,” he explained. “I smile, brush it off and put it to the back of my mind.”
Lately though, discussion around Shahid’s performances has been for all the right reasons. Better adjusted to the Division I game, Shahid has been a spark for the Bison, keying their stretch of five wins in six contests.
“Being in junior college, you can sometimes be the faster one or the stronger one,” Shahid explained. “Here, it’s not the case. This level is much more of an IQ game. It’s a lot different than the junior college level.”
Shahid has been the Bison’s leading scorer during the squad’s recent tear. The junior is averaging 21.7 points per game while shooting at a blistering 59.7 percent from the field. Shahid attributed this success to the on-court chemistry he’s developed with teammates over the past four months.
“I wouldn’t say I’m popping off. My teammates are just doing a really good job of finding me in situations I’m comfortable in.”
For Shahid, that has been just about any situation of late. Shahid never shies away from the moment or backs down from any opponent. That demeanor on the hardwood is in large measure due to his height. “You have to be the spoon that stirs the pot. It gives me an edge about myself,” Shahid said. Where others may have margin for error, Shahid has none, which only fuels his indomitable style of play.
Recent matchups with Western Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota State have meant contending with big men such as Brandon Gilbeck, Filip Rebraca and Mike Daum, all at least 10 inches taller than Shahid. The size disparity didn’t stop Shahid though, who slashed and fought his way through the lane for baskets. Simply put, “You’ve got to be fearless,” Shahid said.
With at least a top-four finish guaranteed, NDSU has three games to play, at home against Omaha and on the road to South Dakota and Purdue Fort Wayne. The task of keeping the team focused on the court lies with Shahid, whose fearless play earned him the title of captain. He and Tyson Ward are the de facto leaders on a team without any seniors.
“You’ve got to attack the process. My teammates do a really good job of embracing me,” Shahid said. “It helped me really get confident in my leadership role.”
That task becomes even more challenging after David Jenkins Jr. ripped the heart out of the Bison’s chest this past Saturday. His half-court buzzer-beater handed NDSU its first loss in over three weeks, taking the wind out of the team’s sails.
Still, the Bison’s attention remains fixed on the upcoming Summit League tournament. All it takes is three straight wins in Sioux Falls to clinch a NCAA Tournament berth. The idea of playing in March Madness isn’t lost on Shahid. “You think about it a lot. You see teams start to get hot at this time of the year,” he said. “We know that, and that’s why we stay hungry at practice.”
Shahid counts off-ball defense and shooting as key areas to continue to develop as March nears. At WNCC, Shahid shot 48 percent from the 3-point line, a mark that is down 12.5-percent this season. If Shahid can rediscover his 3-point stroke, it’s anyone’s guess to what NDSU’s ceiling is.
A March Madness appearance would be the latest entry in Vinnie Shahid’s basketball story. With a senior season remaining and every player on NDSU’s roster returning next year, Shahid ought to be a central piece to another Summit League title chase. Perhaps then people will stop asking about his height.