Along with three incoming freshmen, Cal’s basketball team has a newcomer in fifth-year shooting guard Jordan Shepherd who has, in his words, “been around college basketball a while now.”
Shepherd, who will turn 25 on the final weekend of the Pac-12 regular season in March 2022, played his first college game back in November 2016.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound native of Asheville, N.C., was a freshman at Oklahoma that season. In his 10th college game, he scored 18 points against Memphis.
A year later, he and the Sooners played twice against Pac-12 teams, beating Oregon and USC. Trae Young, his new Oklahoma teammate and now a star with the Atlanta Hawks, scored 43 points against the Ducks.
Shepherd’s playing time diminished that season so he transferred to Charlotte, where he averaged 13 points in two seasons while playing in Conference USA.
At Charlotte, Shepherd averaged 34.0 minutes over 52 games; at Oklahoma, it was 14.0 minutes in 59 games. So opportunity was a piece of the equation.
Cal coach Mark Fox points to two attractive qualities that Shepherd brings to the Bears, who are hoping to engineer a turnaround after four straight losing seasons.
The first thing is Shepherd’s experience.
“Jordan is very mature, very poised. He’s obviously experienced,” Fox said. “You need older, wiser guys who know what it takes. He’s been very well-coached at his previous stops and he’s come in and positioned himself to make an immediate impact.”
Shepherd, who figures to be given every chance to replace the departed Matt Bradley at shooting guard in the Bears’ lineup, says Fox has him pegged correctly.
“I definitely consider myself a mature guy,” he said. “I’ve been around college basketball a while now. I’m kind of used to how everything goes . . . no matter where I my be.
“Hopefully, I’m able to inject a lot of these young guys with some maturity as well and be able to share my experiences and my stories from coming through this and be able to help them grow as well.”
Cal has three freshmen on its roster — guard Marsalis Roberson and forwards Obinna Anynawu and Sam Alajiki.
The second area Fox believes Shepherd will benefit the Bears is as a scorer who can make others better.
“What’s really valuable about Jordan’s ability to score is he can also pass,” Fox said. “Some guys pass as a last resort, other guys pass to make people better. He’s one of those guys who has the ability to score but also has the ability as a passer to make people better.”
Fox never mentioned Bradley in his discussion of Shepherd, and I’m not suggesting his words had an underlying meaning. But while Bradley was an excellent scorer — much more accomplished than anyone on the current Cal roster — you would not describe him as a player who so far in his career made others better.
I did the math and Bradley averaged one assist every 17.5 minutes he was on the floor in his three seasons at Cal. Part of that, no doubt, was that he carried a heavy load as a scorer.
By comparison, Shepherd averaged one assist every 9.8 minutes he played for Oklahoma and Charlotte. And their career playing time totals are fairly comparable.
It remains to be seen if Shepherd can put teammates in position to score with his presence and his passing. He averaged 4.1 assists as a junior for Charlotte in 2019-20, and had 16 games of at least five assists during his two seasons there, including a career-best total of 10 vs. Western Kentucky as a junior.
Combining the two offensive skills is an assignment Shepherd says he embraces.
“My role here, honestly, is just to come here and try to put the ball in the basket any way that I can,” he said. “Also make plays for others. Both of those things have been in my skill set.”
In the video below Shepherd explains why he believes opportunity is a key to his career arc:
Cover photo of Jordan Shepherd during a Cal practice by CK Hicks, Cal Athletics
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo