shai gilgeous-alexander

The Incredible Rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

“He’s playing himself into being one of the best players in the country.”

Check that: He’s worked himself into being one of the best players in the country.

Noticed this is the theme with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on every level (high school, college, and NBA).

After leading and being the youngest team ever to the No. 1 seed and to the second round of the playoffs in the Western Conference.

Here’s the incredible story of how Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become an NBA superstar and one of the best basketball players in the world.

The Incredible Rise of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

May 18, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots over Dallas Mavericks forward Derrick Jones Jr. (55) during the second half in game six of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In the ninth grade, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got cut from his high school junior varsity team. He took that to heart as he continued to improve. He showed a knack for scoring. Two years later, playing on the senior team for Washington at Sir Allan McNab Secondary, he was given an option: He could take the first two shots of the game to prove he was an offensive threat, but then he had to pass the ball the rest of the half. When the third quarter started, he could mix things up. Washington did this to improve his playmaking skills.

That was nothing compared to what Washington told Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to do after that year: Get out. Knowing the young guard needed better competition than what Ontario could offer, Washington pushed him to go to prep school for two years at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “I know he wasn’t happy about it,” Washington says, “but he needed it. I pretty much forced him to go.

Moving to the United States and Transferring to Hamilton Heights

Nickeil Alexander-Walker also went to Hamilton Heights, and the cousins shared a room in the house of Coach Zach Ferrell. He noticed something different about the young Canadians right away. They were always working on their game, whether that meant extra shooting in the gym or playing one-on-one in his driveway. “He and his cousin came here with a purpose,” Zach Ferrell says. “They didn’t care about anything else but doing what they were supposed to do and being really good at it. They were the epitome of low-maintenance, focused individuals.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had one Division I scholarship entering his first season with Hamilton Heights — from Binghamton. However, he quickly made a name for himself. He helped lead the team to the title at the prestigious 2015 City of Palms Classic tournament, in a field that featured such players as Jayson Tatum, Michael Porter Jr., and Mohamed Bamba. He got his first high-major offer from Florida that fall and committed to Florida. He began to appear on Top 100 recruiting lists for the first time. “But he was still not thought of as an elite point guard, in the same class with guys like Collin Sexton, Trae Young, and Trevon Duval,” Zach Ferrell says.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, with encouragement and advice from Washington, still believed he could be one of the best point guards in the country. That’s why he decommitted from Florida and committed to Kentucky and signed with John Calipari, who has a history of developing players at that position into NBA stars. “Everybody was saying, ‘Oh, why are you doing that? He’s not good enough to play there,’’’ Washington says. “And I was like, listen, we know what we’re doing.”

Freshman Season at Kentucky 

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a four-star recruit out of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. At Kentucky, under John Calipari’s program, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the seventh-highest-rated recruit in an eight-man class behind a half-dozen five-star kids, including fellow point guard Quade Green. He wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, nor did he play in the Jordan Brand Classic.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t start 13 of Kentucky’s first 15 games, coming off the bench behind Quade Green. But as the young Kentucky team struggled to find any consistency, John Calipari saw that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the one guy who always did the right things. He never missed a class, tutoring appointment or weightlifting session. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander worked out several times a week at 7 a.m. with assistant coach Joel Justus. He asked coaches to watch extra film with him, particularly of his turnovers.

“He’s probably our hardest worker,” Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne says. “To be a quote-unquote four-star and come in here and do what juniors and seniors do, well, that starts with his mentality.

It’s no coincidence that he was being rewarded for being the hardest worker on the team. The season turned around when John Calipari decided the offense would go through two guys: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox. He moved Quade Green off the ball and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander became the unquestioned focal point. John Calipari didn’t name captains for the season, but teammates know where to look for leadership.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s rapid improvement continued throughout the season, including being named SEC All-Freshman winning the SEC Conference Tournament, and being named SEC Tournament MVP. Scoring 29 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor in the SEC Championship game. Overall, he averaged 21 points, six assists, and five rebounds while shooting 55 percent from the floor. He continued having signature performances in the NCAA Tournament including a 27-point, six-assist, and a six-rebound performance in a second-round win against Buffalo.

And that has caused his NBA stock to soar. Coming into his freshman year, he wasn’t projected to get drafted. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put in the work and the work paid off which resulted in him being drafted picked eleven to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Los Angeles Clippers Tenure

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t start the first nine games, coming off the bench behind Patrick Beverly and Avery Bradley. Playing for Doc Rivers who is known for not playing rookies, noticed something different with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Not only Doc Rivers but veteran players such as Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly were impressed with his maturity and the way and how hard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander works. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was described as a “gym-rat” as he was constantly in the gym with Sam Cassell, getting shots up, in the film room looking for ways to get better.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his improvement throughout the rest of his rookie season as he made the Rising Stars and All-Rookie team. He averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game while playing all 82 games as a rookie. He had signature playoff moments and performances which was beyond his years as a rookie. In which, he got praise from NBA stars Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry and from his coaches and teammates.

Being Traded to Oklahoma City

Then this defining moment happened in the offseason. He was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Oklahoma City Thunder (the Paul George trade). It may have stung in the moment, however, this was the best thing to happen for him in his early NBA career.

During his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he had Chris Paul as his mentor which did wonders for his game. The mutual respect and appreciation that the two of them have for each other is wonderful to see. The Thunder would go on and surprise the NBA, finishing as the fifth seed with a 44-28 record. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took another step in his game averaging 19 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game in his second season.

First Time All-Star and All-NBA

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s rapid improvement has been a common theme as he has taken another leap in game every season in his NBA career thus far. It led to him becoming an All-Star reserve and making First Team All-NBA for the first time last season.

Representing and Becoming the Face of Canada 

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This past summer with the Canadian national basketball team, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won the bronze medal for only the second time in Canadian basketball history and he was named to the World Cup All-Tournament Team. He was named the Northern Star Award in 2023 as Canadian athlete of the year, only the second basketball player so honored.

Becoming an All-Star Starter and MVP Candidate 

Now establishing himself as a superstar, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s career continues to accelerate at a rapid pace, as he was named a 2024 NBA All-Star starter.

After making his first NBA All-Star game last season as a reserve, he’s reached a new milestone as a first-time starter this season. This makes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander just the fourth Oklahoma City Thunder player to be named an All-Star starter, following in the footsteps of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his ascension as he finished up as the MVP runner-up and back-to-back First Team All-NBA. This special season resulted in the Oklahoma City Thunder being the youngest team ever to the No. 1 seed with a record of (57-25) and to the second round of the playoffs in the Western Conference. The rise and ascension of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s superstar play and leadership was the main driving force behind Oklahoma City’s ascension.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put a lot of critics to bed and showed the national audience that he’s a superstar and can be a N0. 1 guy in a playoff setting. In his first playoffs as the No. 1 guy, he averaged 30.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game on 50% from the floor, 43% from three, and 79% from the free-throw line.

Feb 18, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Western Conference guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball against the Eastern Conference All-Stars during the third quarter in the 73rd NBA All Star game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the perfect kind of player to build your franchise around: A guy who knows, from experience, there’s no substitute for hard work. It’s all over his story; getting cut from his high school JV team, buried on the depth chart at Kentucky and with the Clippers, and now he’s a Top 10 player and a superstar in the NBA who’s continuing to get better every year.

The way this season ended will only fuel him and the Oklahoma City Thunder as this was an invaluable experience for this team. This is only the beginning of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder will be here to stay for the foreseeable future. Now, next up for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the 2024 Olympics in Paris with his country (Canada), where he will have the opportunity to show the entire world his stardom.

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