Come take another look.
That’s the advice Columbia (Decatur, Ga.) point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen has for anyone who doubts he possesses the physical tools to be successful at the collegiate level. Despite all he has accomplished on the court during his tenure with the Decatur, Ga., powerhouse, the diminutive floor general’s name rarely comes up in the discussion of the nation’s premier point guards.
“I think they’re missing out. They’re going off potential and what they think we’re going to do,” says Shamsid-Deen, who is the 67th-ranked PG in the class of 2013 according to the ESPN 100 rankers. “I really don’t play for a ranking, but I know what I can do and what I can do against [other highly touted] guards.”
His accomplishments certainly create a compelling case for the 5-foot-9 guard.
In three seasons running the show at Columbia, Shamsid-Deen has averaged a double-double while orchestrating a three-peat at state and three consecutive finishes in the POWERADE FAB 50. Shamsid-Deen is blessed with an uncanny ability to finish at the rim that belies his small stature and a cunning acumen on both ends, and there aren’t many ballers in the nation as indispensable to their squads as he is. And even fewer who can match his stacked resume.
Still, the rising senior is an outsider in the ESPNU 100, and before garnering interest from UConn and Stanford in recent months he had only a handful of offers, from the likes of Butler, Auburn and Northwestern.
“A lot of teams are afraid of his height,” says Columbia assistant coach Clint McCray. “He’s playing like he has a point to prove. The kid’s had an uphill battle since he got here.”
That battle began with trying to convince his teammates he was actually a varsity player.
“I thought he was a little kid,” laughs Jarmal Reid, a former Columbia forward who will play for Oregon State this upcoming season. “I said, ‘Ain’t he in middle school or something?’ When he got on the court, though, he just tore it up.”
It didn’t take long for Shamsid-Deen to turn his teammates from skeptics to believers. And he did it against one of the state’s biggest squads in Miller Grove, which featured multiple future Division I prospects in its frontcourt. While no one remembers his exact stat line, everyone agrees the bite-sized freshman was among the standouts on the floor that day.
“I was surprised at the maturity level he played with,” Miller Grove coach Sharman White said. “He’s been a general since Day 1. He has a very high basketball IQ and the right kind of savvy and spunk. If he was 6-5, he would be the best player in the state.”
That day was all the coaching staff needed to see before anointing Shamsid-Deen the team’s starter at the point. From there, it became apparent that Columbia would be a team to be reckoned with. Over the next three seasons, the Eagles went 89-9 with three consecutive Class AAA crowns. Shamsid-Deen wrapped up the 2011-12 campaign averaging 15 points and 10 dimes a contest, and pumped in a game-high 19 points in the final.
Shamsid-Deen sports championship rings on three fingers, but he’s still getting the cold shoulder from some around the nation. The NBA Top 100 Camp selection committee shunned him for its prestigious event, and he finds himself ranked in the bottom half of the nation's top 100 floor generals by ESPN.
Such is the plight of an undersized player in a recruiting world where the words "height" and "length" have become as germane to today’s game as the set shot was in the infancy of the sport.
“What you lack in size and height can get you exposed on defense at times,” says Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national director of recruiting, who has not evaluated Shamsid-Deen but helped recruit mini mite Scoonie Penn while coaching at Boston College. “The No. 1 criteria is being able to make open shots and break pressure. You can't let your lack of height be a factor in the game.”
The ESPN 100 features two such sub-6-footers in 5-10 sharpshooting SG Stevie Clark and 5-7 YouTube phenom Aquille Carr. Shamsid-Deen is hoping another big season will help him garner some recognition alongside the nation’s top backcourt stars.
“The other guards in our class are like 6-2, 6-3,” says Shamsid-Deen. “Smaller guards are dominating this summer, too. It just gives me more motivation. I’m a winner. I go out and play hard every night. If the respect is not there, I’ll just have to get it in college.”
Shamsid-Deen could gain more attention this summer playing for the Southern Stampede AAU squad and has targeted this fall to announce his commitment. In addition to his previously mentioned suitors, Ivy League schools could also be in play as Shamsid-Deen boasts a 3.9 GPA and is on pace to become valedictorian of his class. Wherever he lands, Reid is predicting his former point guard and close friend will send reverberations throughout the college hoops world -- much like he’s done in his Columbia career.
“Some people around Georgia say he’s overrated, some say he’s the best to come out of Columbia,” says Reid. “He’s somebody to be reckoned with, and he’s going to take everyone by storm. He’s going to make a lot of teams pay once he gets to college.”