Sixteen-year-old Devontae Shuler was lying on the ground in the fetal position, waiting for the bus to take him and his Irmo High School varsity basketball teammates to a midweek game more than two hours away. When he arrived at the opposing school’s gym, the high school sophomore spent a little more time on the ground, then some by the trash can, then on the ground again.
He had the flu.
But when tipoff came, illness wasn’t on his mind. It was Shuler time.
Entering the fourth quarter down 15 points, he orchestrated a comeback victory that defended the team’s No. 1 ranking in the state and grew his legend.
“I felt like Michael Jordan, man,” the current Ole Miss shooting guard said. “The flu game, Shuler style.”
Born within a stone’s throw of the South Carolina Gamecocks football stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, Shuler attended Irmo High School for two years before he transferred to the prestigious basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy for his junior and senior seasons. As the starting shooting guard for Oak Hill, Shuler earned a national title with his team, and the legend continued.
During Shuler’s national title run, the college he grew up next to made a run of its own, reaching the finals of March Madness. And in that same school year, the Gamecocks’ head coach Frank Martin offered him a scholarship to play basketball.
With his aspirations set on the NBA, Shuler decided to go farther from home for the sake of avoiding distractions. Although he said he loves his friends and thrives on their support, the four-star recruit decided it would be best to be somewhere where basketball is his sole option, 24/7.
That place was Ole Miss, where his first full year as a Rebel is coming to a close.
The adjustment to SEC play as a freshman, he said, has not been difficult, thanks to his focus and the preparation he received at Oak Hill. In fact, Shuler has worked hard to take most any progress-hindering challenge head-on.
“I don’t let too many things get to me,” he said. “How far I’ve come now, I just can’t. I’ve got tunnel vision right now. I’m only focused on one thing. I don’t pay attention, because my mom said, ‘That’s just traps in the road. You just gotta stay on the path.’”
Some of his ability to remain focused comes with his nature. Being lighthearted is just who Shuler is. Off the court – and often on it, too – it’s not difficult to catch a glimpse of him smiling or laughing about something.
“I’m a laughable person,” he said as his trademark grin grew across his face. “Always happy. I don’t let too many things get to me. I keep the energy high. I have a positive energy always around me. Never in a bad mood. Trust me on that.”
Far before his big personality ventured to Oxford, Shuler was inspired by his older brother, once the top high school recruit in his home state. Of course, he also had his friends by his side and his mother to push him. But aside from his immediate support team, as Shuler began to take shape for himself on the court, he looked to the pros for inspiration.
“I look up to Jamal Crawford a lot,” he said. “He’s got a little shift to his game. And he has a good personality, too, like he has fun with it every time I see him on the court. That’s what makes me go out and play on both ends of the court.”
In fact, Crawford’s game shaped him in such a way that Shuler sometimes finds himself bothered by today’s basketball culture. Specifically, he takes issue with the fact that often times only offense is glorified. While he does have a deep shot, as well as a vicious slashing game, in his arsenal, Shuler’s true love on the court is hard-nosed, defensive basketball.
“I love locking people up. I love playing on the defensive end,” he said. “That’s the main part about me. Everybody nowadays is a scorer. You go on Instagram and you’ll never see just, like, clips of people locking someone down. So I’m trying to change the game a little bit.”
Though changing the game is a lofty goal, Shuler hopes to grow as a leader during his time in red and blue. With experienced guys like Markel Crawford and DeAndre Burnett leading the charge, he finds himself listening and learning, but speaking up when he sees a glaring issue. As his freshman year in a system in which the older players run the show nears its conclusion, Shuler knows when he needs to step up when they move on.
“Hopefully soon I can be in Dre or Markel’s spot.”