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March 12, 2013
It's been a while since Nebraska had a true freshman come in and have the type of immediate impact that Shavon Shields had for the Huskers this season.
After missing the first part of non-conference play with a lingering elbow injury, Shields eventually established himself as a fixture in NU's starting lineup and averaged 8.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. While those are solid numbers for a freshman, the Olathe, Kan., native was at his best against Big Ten competition.
He started all but one of Nebraska's 18 league games and averaged 9.2 ppg and ranked 11th in the Big Ten with 6.0 rpg. A few of his highlights include twice being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, making him the first Husker freshman to accomplish the feat since 2009.
With all that being said, though, Shields' name was nowhere to be found when the conference released its 2012-13 All-Freshman Team on Monday. Shields was beaten out by Michigan State's Gary Harris, Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, Michigan's Glenn Robinson III, Purdue's A.J. Hammons and Wisconsin's Sam Dekker.
Along with Shields, some of the other notable exclusions included Michigan's Mitch McGary, who was ranked the No. 30 overall player in the 2012 class, and Nik Stauskas, a three-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week winner; Purdue's Raphael Davis, who was just earned the weekly freshman honor on Monday; and Iowa's Mike Gesell, who started the first 27 games for the Hawkeyes before ending the year with an injury.
It's hard to argue any of the players named to the team, but Nebraska coach Tim Miles said the Huskers' 14-17 overall record and 5-13 mark in league play probably didn't help Shields' case.
"Shavon's really I think a strong freshman, and it's unfortunate that he wasn't able to (make the All-Freshman Team)," Miles said. "We didn't have as much team success as those other teams did. I think that's really what it comes down to."
Regardless of any post-season honors, Shields said he couldn't have been much happier with how his Husker debut played out, especially with how rough it started off with his injury issues.
"It was better than everyone expected," Shields said. "Starting off, injuries kind of set me back and things like that, and I think as a team and personally we came back pretty strong. I'm proud of the team and I'm proud of myself for coming back."
What makes his performance this season even more impressive is the fact that he accomplished all that he did with his elbow admittedly still bothering him all year. Shields missed most of the fall and five of the Huskers' first six games while dealing with a ruptured bursa sac in his right (shooting) elbow, which later became infected.
"You've just got to play through it," Shields said. "I'm glad we got it out of the way at the start of the season instead of having it trouble me throughout the season and miss more games."
The instances of top-level freshmen sticking around for all four years of their college eligibility seem to be getting fewer and further between, but Miles said looking at the All-Freshman Team and all the players who were left off of it was more than enough reason to believe the Big Ten would only continue to reload and remain the best conference in college basketball.
"I think our league is going nowhere but up," Miles said. "I think that's a great sign and it's exciting for us to be a part of it."
For Shields, he's also excited about what the future holds in the Big Ten going forward. Having gotten a full taste of what it takes to compete in the conference, Shields said he couldn't wait to battle the rest of the league's young guns for the next three years to come.
"There's a lot of good players, and I think there's probably seven or eight of us that could have deserved and easily have been on that list with those guys," Shields said. "Just moving ahead, I think every single team has a freshman that started or played big minutes and roles. So I mean, all my years here I'll play against them and maybe get them back in a sense (laughs). Just the freshmen, and I even heard some of the recruits are pretty good that are coming in. There's good juniors and sophomores in this league too, so I think it will be strong for years to come. I'm excited about that to compete against them every game."