God Shammgod Crossing Over to Coaching
After a 20-year playing career, God Shammgod is now coaching and passing on the life lessons he learned.
God Shammgod is most known for his memorable name and the flashy crossover that he created as a college freshman with the Providence Friars. After all, there aren’t many players who have an iconic move named after them. To this day, “the Shammgod” dribble is used in NBA games by point guards like Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving in an effort to fly past defenders (often in humiliating fashion).
However, there’s much more to the 39-year-old, whose professional playing career spanned 20 seasons. Now, Shammgod is making a name for himself with a different kind of move: The former point guard is crossing over to coaching, as he currently serves as a graduate assistant under Ed Cooley at Providence.
Shammgod works as a trainer for the Friars’ guards and has made a significant impact since returning to the program where he once starred. He played an instrumental role in the development of guards Bryce Cotton (who most recently played for the Utah Jazz) and Kris Dunn (who’s being projected as a top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft). In addition to training Providence’s players, he says he has also worked with NBA players like Isaiah Thomas, Ben Gordon and Ricky Ledo among others.
He first joined Cooley’s staff as an undergraduate assistant in 2012, but he is now a graduate assistant after recently receiving his degree. As he continues to gain experience on the sideline and help guards make huge strides, he’s being recognized as a coach with a lot of potential and the ability to help players better themselves on and off the court.
“During my last year in China, I was kind of a player-coach and I had trained their National Team’s guards for the Olympics so that gave me my first taste of training players and coaching,” Shammgod said. “I decided to forgo the final year of my contract in China to come back to the United States and finish my degree. When I got drafted, I promised my mother I would finish my degree. So I decided to do that and when I returned to Providence, everyone embraced me so much. I started helping MarShon Brooks and some other guys work out. It was a great fit and it took off from there. That’s when I realized I wanted to coach.”
Players respect Shammgod, which has helped him as he transitions from playing to coaching. They know of his incredible handles, long playing career and legendary streetball status. They certainly know his unforgettable name. He Got Game director Spike Lee once told the New York Times that he came up with the name Jesus Shuttlesworth for Ray Allen’s character after he watched God Shammgod play, became a fan of his game and believed his “mythical name… heightens the legend.”
Players also listen to Shammgod because he has been in their shoes and has plenty of life experience to share. In 1995, he was a McDonald’s All-American alongside future NBA stars Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, Stephon Marbury, Antawn Jamison and Shareef Abdur-Rahim while developing a reputation as one of the best ball-handlers in the nation. After two years in college, Shammgod entered the 1997 NBA Draft and was selected by the Washington Bullets with the 45th overall pick.
Shammgod spent just one season in the NBA and often says that he was “20 years ahead of his time” because teams were turned off by his tendency to dominate the ball. While many of today’s guards are encouraged to take over games, Shammgod was urged to get the ball out of his hands despite the fact that his dribbling and creating were his biggest strengths. Shammgod says NBA decision-makers told him that the only way he’d have a future in the league is if he became a spot-up shooter and passed the ball to his team’s bigs.
After that lone NBA season, Shammgod continued his career overseas, where he was allowed to play his game and handle the ball much more. Over the next two decades, he had stints in China, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Croatia as well as American stops in the Continental Basketball Association, International Basketball League and United States Basketball League.
While he never achieved the mainstream NBA success of his peers, he had a nice career, influenced many players and developed a strong circle of friends from his playing days (which should also help him in his coaching career).
“He has that respect from the moment he meets a kid because he’s a streetball legend; everybody knows who God Shammgod is or, at the very least, you’ve heard of him,” Cleveland Cavaliers associate head coach Tyronn Lue said. “That alone means a lot, especially for the kids in New York who grew up hearing up about him and now get a chance to work with him. That means a lot for those kids. He definitely has a ton of respect from everyone, and that’s really important.
“He’s doing a great job as a coach and he always sends me the videos of his players working out, doing the ball-handling and shooting drills. He’s helping those guys. Also, he’s a great mentor because of the things he’s been through and the things he’s seen growing up, playing in the NBA, going overseas and being a streetball legend. He has so much to offer and give. I really love the mentor part. That’s big. He’s been there and guys respect that. They look up to him.”
NBA champion Chauncey Billups, who has been close with Shammgod since they trained together for the 1997 NBA Draft, agrees that his friend’s journey will help him in his post-playing career.
“He has the experience and that absolutely helps,” Billups said. “Coaches can say, ‘Do this, do that,’ but when you have a guy who has actually been through it like Shammgod, that’s so valuable. He’s not telling guys about things he’s learned from other coaches or things he’s heard. He’s telling them what he’s been through. He can tell you what to do and what not to do. I’m pretty sure if Shamm could do it all over again, there would be some different decisions made that probably would’ve propelled him to a 10-to-15-year NBA career, so being able to own that and then being courageous enough to pass those lessons on to kids is great. He can tell guys, ‘This is what I did, this is what I should’ve done and you shouldn’t make these mistakes.’ He has a chance to do something special and that message resonates a lot stronger with these kids than anything a coach who hasn’t been through it can tell you.
“I think he has done a phenomenal job. He has a wealth of knowledge that these kids need. These kids want to be pros, they want to be in the NBA, and Shammgod has been through a lot and seen a lot. His lessons are great for these young fellas. And, look, a lot of people can’t go through all of that and then turn around and teach. Shamm has done an incredible job of teaching these guys about what he’s been through and helping guys not go through a bump [in the road] like he did. And these guys have really grown to trust him and really respect him. He’s a huge asset to these guys.”
Shammgod has always enjoyed helping other players improve their ball-handling. It’s something he has done since he was a child. In fact, he says his first training sessions technically took place when he was in high school at the famed ABCD Camp. Each day, there was a young guard who would wake up early to work out with Shammgod and try to learn his moves. The high school junior was determined to master the crossovers and add them to his arsenal.
The kid was Kobe Bryant.
“The first person I ever trained in my life was Kobe Bryant,” Shammgod said with a laugh. “I was going into the 12th grade and he was in the 11th grade and we were at the ABCD Camp. We would get up early every day at the camp and I’d show him some dribbling moves and things like that. I’ve always liked to help other players and show them some things. That’s always been in me since day one, and I’ve kind of been training people my whole life without really knowing it.”
Bryant isn’t the only player who Shammgod impacted. Two years ago, Shammgod had the opportunity to meet Chris Paul. Shammgod said that the Los Angeles Clippers point guard credited Shammgod and Tim Hardaway with influencing his ball-handling (which explains why “the Shammgod” is a part of Paul’s repertoire).
Because he never lit up the NBA, it’s easy to forget just how talented Shammgod was during his playing days. But talk to basketball lifers and just about everyone has a Shammgod story.
“This is a story that most people wouldn’t tell, but I’ll tell it,” Lue said with a laugh. “Me and Shammgod met when we were entering our senior year of high school and we were playing AAU basketball. He was playing for Brooklyn USA and I was playing for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. We played a game at the University of Purdue. Now, I had heard his name and heard some things about him, but in the Midwest you don’t see a lot of guys who can handle the ball and do what he could do. The first time we played against each other, he had 40 points on me. Like, he killed me. Some of the tricks he was doing with the ball, being in the Midwest, we had never seen anything like that before. It was just like, ‘What?!’
“Our team liked to full-court press a lot. Well, he caught the ball against the press and just dribbled through his legs down the length of the court, beating the press and making it look so easy. Everyone on our team just turned to each other like, ‘What the hell?’ It was kind of crazy. Then, at the end of a quarter when guys will usually just hold the ball and wait for the last shot, Shammgod came just barely across half-court and stood right next to the sideline, rocking the ball back and forth. I mean, if he had mishandled the ball by one inch it’s either out of bounds or a backcourt violation. But he’s just rocking the ball back and forth for 10 seconds, staring the defense down and doing whatever he wants. That was my first time meeting Shammgod and playing against him, and I’ll always remember that because it was just crazy seeing a guy who could handle the ball the way he did and do the things he did. We stayed in touch from that point on.”
Today, Shammgod is influencing the next generation of basketball talent. As a trainer, Shammgod tries to help his young players on and off the court. While he obviously wants to improve their ball-handling and point guard skills, he also wants to be a mentor to them and ensure that his pupils learn from his experiences and mistakes as a pro. That ability to help players with every aspect of their development separates Shammgod from some other trainers.
His work with former Providence guard Bryce Cotton helped the point guard get on the NBA’s radar, and he most recently played for the Utah Jazz.
“We both went to the same school and when he came back [to Providence], I was going into my junior year and we just hit it off right away,” Cotton said. “We worked out every single day and I loved the improvements that I saw, so I’ve been working with him ever since. He helped my mindset and he helped me become a much better point guard. He has so many different tricks that he used to use back in the day and since we’re around the same size, he passed those on to me and they were really helpful. I think the sky is the limit for him; he’s a tremendous trainer. Every single person who has worked out with him at Providence has seen enormous growth in their game.”
Now, Shammgod is working with Kris Dunn, who is projected to be one of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft. DraftExpress currently has him being selected as the seventh overall pick. Dunn worked out with Shammgod every day during the summer and raves about the experience.
“I first met him during my freshman year at Providence; he knew I was a McDonald’s All-American and I knew he was a McDonald’s All-American so right away there was a connection,” Dunn said. “I’ve always known who God Shammgod is because of the move that he created and because he’s just such an amazing dribbler. The fact that he showed me love right away made me feel special.
“He has helped me a lot. In the summer, that’s my guy. I’ve been going to him every summer and I’ve been getting better every year because of him, so I just try to stay with him and work with him as much as possible. The biggest lessons from him are just about being yourself and knowing who you are. We’ve done a lot of drills to improve my ball-handling, read a ball screen, perfect my decision-making and things like that. I’m always picking his brain and asking him how to get better because he’s so knowledgeable when it comes to the game. But what a lot of people don’t know is the off-court stuff. He’s been a mentor to me on the court, but really I view him as a big brother who has also been there for me off the court. We’re always discussing things that have nothing to do with basketball and he has taught me a lot about life in general. There’s just so much that he has done for me and I appreciate all of it. He’s one of the first guys who I go to if I’m having a bad day or a bad game because he’s been there, knows what it’s like and how to bounce back. He has so much life experience that he can share.”
On the court, Shammgod will preach that his guys need to do things like “keep the ball low, dribble quick and be creative.” But, as Dunn said, Shammgod also wants to help players off the court and form long-lasting bonds.
“My advice is to never take anything for granted, always work hard and try to do things the right way,” Shammgod said. “We have our plan and God has his plan, and I try to tell guys not to rush God’s plan. When I was at Providence, I feel like I rushed my plan along. I thought I was set up to do great things and I thought leaving [for the NBA] after my sophomore year was part of God’s plan, but I rushed it. So I always tell guys to be patient and that there’s no substitute for hard work. No matter how many business opportunities that guys like LeBron or Kobe or whoever has, none of those happen without basketball, so you need to give basketball 110 percent, focus on the present and work as hard as you can every single day.
“I also try to talk to guys about life – things like taking care of their family and seeing the big picture. It’s much more than a trainer-player relationship. Kris and Bryce are like my little brothers; that’s how I view them. I don’t necessarily consider myself a trainer. I’m just a person [in your life] who is focused on making you better. Period. I want to work on improving their skill development, but I also want to work on improving their mind. You want to have an impact on people for the rest of their life, not just in that moment you’re training them. You want to make a long-term impact. I think that’s the sign of a great coach – when you can have much more than a coach-player relationship and be the coach who is invited to the player’s wedding years later when they’re in the NBA and things like that. You build that real, life-long relationship.”
Shammgod is proud of his young prospects and their recent success.
“We worked hard all summer, so it’s been great to see all of that work pay off for Bryce and Kris,” Shammgod said. “I’m just honored that I’m still relevant enough for them to want to listen to me. These are elite athletes. And the way I look at it, they’re helping me grow just as much as I’m helping them. I just feel blessed that everything is coming together for them like we talked about and that they’re having success. That’s the ultimate reward for me, seeing those guys have success.”
What’s the long-term plan for Shammgod? He says he doesn’t consider himself a trainer and he’s currently a graduate assistant for Providence. Where does he hope to be several years from now?
“Eventually, I want to be a coach,” Shammgod said. “I think Coach Cooley is doing a wonderful job preparing me to be a coach in the long term. Coach [Andre] LaFleur, Coach [Brian] Blaney, Coach [Jeff] Battle and Coach [Kevin] Kurbec have helped me and I pick their brains so that I can try to learn something from each other and one day be a great coach like they are. Right now, they’re my inspiration. They do it the right way, especially Coach Cooley. I just feel honored to even be part of the staff. If I was 18 years old and I could do it all over again, I would play for Coach Cooley in a heartbeat. I would love for my coaching journey – if God blesses me – to follow the same path that Coach Cooley has taken.”
His peers and pupils believe he’d make a great NCAA or NBA head coach someday.
“I think he’d be successful,” Billups said. “Knowing him, he’s a strong-willed person and when he puts his mind to something, he will attain it eventually. If that’s what he wants to do, he’d be great at it. He’s going to put the time in and work hard. He’s not someone who thinks, ‘Okay, I’m Shammgod and have done this and that so I’ll be successful.’ No, he’s going to learn, he’s going to work and he’s going to put the time in. He’s doing that right now, sitting behind these coaches, respecting them and learning from them. He’s someone who is always going to be put in the necessary time to be successful at his craft.”
“Can he be a head coach? Why not?” Lue said. “He’s already making an impact with these kids and, honestly, I think that’s harder to do than it is on the NBA level. When you’re dealing with kids, you’re dealing with AAU coaches and parents and all of that. At least on the NBA level, it’s just all basketball. I see him being someone who comes in and does player development first, getting his feet wet that way, and then working his way up. But I don’t see why he couldn’t become a head coach someday. Why not?”
“I think he’d be great,” Dunn said. “His brand alone would really help him. I mean, he’s God Shammgod! Everybody knows him – from the pros, to the college players, to the high schoolers, to the kids. His brand and name alone will automatically help him. But it’s not just that – he has what it takes on and off the court to really succeed in that role. He’s so knowledgeable, he’s a teacher and he has a great basketball IQ. And off the court, he can get along with anybody because of his personality. If you don’t like God Shammgod, well, to be honest, you aren’t a good person (laughs). I say that because he’s a great individual. He’s always worried about other people rather than focusing on himself and he’s so considerate. Also, I think he’d do an excellent job recruiting, especially guys in New York since he came from there and he’s still known as the best ball-handler from there. He can teach anyone how to dribble and read screens and all of that. I definitely think he could be a great head coach.”
“There’s no question that he’ll be a college or NBA coach at some point,” Cotton said. “He has a great knowledge of the game, and he has such a creative mind when it comes to creating workouts and helping players get better. Anybody would be lucky to have him as their coach.”
With a coaching career seemingly in his future, the legend of God Shammgod continues.
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