There’s something about vulnerability in a great talent that has people enthralled. A chink in the armor will always endear a sportsman to the fans in the long run, even if it is divisive at the time. You can pick any number of legendary athletes that have had their flaws, very few have been near-perfect. Sometimes we see the best quality output and the worst quality output from the same people; a volatility that can often come as a burden of genius. It’s obviously too early to be painting that kind of picture about the San Diego State Aztec’s Winston Shepard, but already tell-tale signs are emerging of a front-running young player that can lead the tables in several areas. However, there are also signs of a player that is prone to mistakes and sometimes all-out collapse. Only 21 years old and a towering 6’8″, Shepard has some filling out to do both in his ball game repertoire and his physical stature. However, you can’t say that he isn’t simply one of the best in the game at his level because that would not be true.
His sophomore stats say plenty; 34 starts from 36 games, second in team scoring, assists, rebounds and free throws. He broke so many career records that we don’t have the space to air them. But he still has the tendency to slip and to fall off the pedestal in dramatic fashion. He’s still fallible. Nowhere is this more easily defined that in the recent performance against New Mexico Lobos. The Aztecs came through 56-42 and there was a lot to be learned about the team as a whole. More topically, though, it showed both the excellence and the parts that still need to be polished in Shepard’s game. Just go to his Twitter feed to see the juxtaposition between positive and negative – all of which he likes to retweet.
He is the best and the worst, he has some of the best stats (zero points allowed with four or less seconds left on the shot clock, 44 turnovers gained), and a good amount at the low-end (most missed free throws, and most turnovers conceded for the Aztecs). One day he might be right up there with the nation’s best in the NBA, you might be browsing through the basketball betting markets on betfair to see ‘Winston Shepard’ in the running for top points scorer. There’s also a chance that the buzz on everyone’s lips right now might have fizzled out with him not living up to the potential, succumbing to the negatives he’s often been charged with in his most formative adult years.
Again, we return to the Viejas Arena last week. Twenty points scored, nine rebounds, two assists. Five turnovers, four missed free throws and three air balls. He could have single-handedly lost them the game, but with a spectacular second half he almost went and won it on his own. The boos turned to cheers “He’s far from perfect,” said coach Steve Fisher, whilst also pointing out that he’s one of the most improved players on the court, constantly evolving. It’s not always the flashy things he does well – drawing seven fouls won’t make you MVP, but it’s certainly useful to the team. “He had a great game, a man’s game,” Matt Shrigley said of the performance, no doubt referring to the no-frills hard work rather than just the scoring stats. Let the young man play, let him iron out the creases, and the faith will be repaid. The troughs can look lower when the peaks are so high, but Shepard can continue his ascent.
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