Terrence Shannon Jr. emerging as one of college basketball's best guards

Terrence Shannon Jr. emerging as one of college basketball’s best guards

LAS VEGAS Matthew Mayer competed against Terrence Shannon in the Big 12 for three seasons, Shannon a key starter for Texas Tech and Mayer a key contributor for back-to-back Big 12 champion Baylor.

But Mayer never saw Shannon quite like this.

“He turned into Steph Curry when he got here, I guess,” Mayer said after Shannon made 8 of 9 three-point attempts to lead No. 19 Illinois to a 79-70 win over UCLA on Friday in the Main Event semifinal at T -Mobile Arena.

Shannon for the last few seasons played a complementary starting role (11.0 points per game over 83 games) at Texas Tech, which won three NCAA Tournament games during the last two seasons. But during his first four games with Illinois, Shannon has blossomed into one of college basketball’s best guards, an All-American candidate and a potential first-round pick.

Four days after scoring a career-high 30 points in a rout of Monmouth, Shannon on Friday sizzled in Sin City. In a tournament with four ranked teams and several potential first-round NBA Draft prospects, Shannon shined brightest, scoring a game-high 29 points and tying an Illinois record with eight made threes.

Shannon’s size (6-foot-6, 215 pounds), athleticism and skill (career 35.1% from three, 79.1% free throw) for years has drawn the attention of NBA scouts. But at Illinois with more freedom to make plays with the ball in his hand and an improving skill set that has come through a dogged work ethic, the Chicago native has taken a leap forward — and he showed out in front of dozens of NBA front office executives and scouts on Friday.

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla has witnessed Shannon’s evolution up close. He calls many Big 12 games for ESPN and saw Shannon’s impact at Texas Tech. But after calling the Illini’s game on Friday, Fraschilla was blown away by Shannon’s improvement — and thinks the Illini senior will rapidly move up draft boards.

“He gets a lot of credit into making himself into what may be now, he’s a first-round pick after tonight,” Fraschilla told Illini Inquirer. “If he plays this way all year, he’s going to play himself into the middle of the first round. Last spring, he was a mid- to late second-round pick, primarily because of the injuries, and he couldn’t do the things he wanted to do physically, but more than that, he’s put a lot of work into his game. ”

Shannon through four games is averaging 24.3 points in 28.5 minutes per game while shooting 57.4% from the field, 53.8% from three and 74.4% from the free throw line. But scoring isn’t the only way his game has grown. Through four games, Shannon (7.5 rebounds per game) has increased his rebounding percentages by more than double. He has been a notably better distributor off the dribble (3.5 assists per game), and his assist rate is a career-high. Oh, and Shannon continues to be a defensive disruptor (his chase-down blocks are LeBron-like).

Shannon currently is ESPN’s No. 85-ranked prospect for the 2023 NBA Draft, but that should change. While his age (22) may work against him, Shannon is the type of two-way wing general managers covet in the modern NBA, and he could make an immediate impact at the next level.

Fraschilla noted Shannon looks healthier this season after dealing with back issues last season at Texas Tech. But Fraschilla, a former Division-I head coach, also has seen huge development in Shannon’s ability to create and score.

“I cannot get over how much his jumper has improved. He’s even driving with his right hand, which every team in the Big 12 knew he could not do,” Fraschilla said. “He’s obviously put a lot of work in during the offseason, and it’s paying off. I’ve never seen a guy go from being an average shooter to being a guy who’s playing like he’s Steph Curry or Klay Thompson. Tonight was a remarkable game for him because it shows that hard work in the offseason pays off.”

illinois head coach Brad Underwood agrees with Fraschilla’s assessment. Underwood thought Shannon could unlock more offensive potential in his more open offensive system — especially with his ability to get to the rim almost at will — but credits Shannon’s insatiable desire to improve for his step forward into one of college basketball’s best guards.

“I think our style helps him. We’ve really encouraged his speed downhill,” Underwood said. “…But I also will say this, 1,000 shots a day and getting in a 4:45 in the morning? It is amazing how success finds hard work and how it becomes part of who he is.

“He’s doing it at both ends. He’s turned into that guy.”

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