Shai Interview 2018
Watching Shai McGruder–whether in practice or a game—I keep getting the feeling in the back of my mind that the gym is too small to contain her. She will get a rebound under the basket at one end of the floor, pass it to a guard, and then beat everyone down court to the offensive basket. She will dive on the floor to try and make a steal, and a few moments later sky upwards to effortlessly scrape the rim. The Lobo roster this season is filled with a lot of athletic players, but Shai is arguably the most physically talented post the team has had in a long time.
As with many freshmen, big numbers in HS (25+ points and 9+ rebound per game her senior season) do not always translate into immediate playing time. In the first six games this season she averaged about six minutes and two points per game, the bulk of that in one game vs Texas Southern.. But as the speed has become more focused in the team structure, the time on court has grown quickly. In the next six games that increased to twelve minutes a game, with scoring and rebounding numbers increasing substantially. Among the bench players she is also second on the team in steals and blocks.
But the most notable thing Shai contributes to each game when she get in, is energy. Something exciting is always going to happen, and more often it has been good than bad for the Lobos. This has earned her her most minutes in the most recent two games, 19 against Air Force (9 points, 9 rebounds, two blocks, 2 steals), and 18 at Nevada (9 points 4 rebounds, 2 steals).
The following interview was done before Christmas break, but a few personal issues (on my part) delayed that until now.
Joe: Typically, the first question people have with all the new faces and freshman is, “How do you describe yourself as a player?” We are starting to see more on the court, but how would you describe your game?
Shai: I’m a non-selfish player. I’ll take a shot, but even though coaches say shoot first, I usually tend to pass it first and get the rebound after that.
Joe: When I lived in Ohio the Dayton area had a lot of good basketball competition. How was growing up playing basketball in Dayton?
Shai: It was great. The exposure and the people I got to play against really groomed me and made me the type of player I am now. The people I was playing against were amazing players and they showed me where I was as a player and what I needed to work on. That really helped me out a lot.
Joe: You left Dayton with achievements (three consecutive conference titles, 25.8 points and 9.4 rebounds a game). Those are numbers that that became a benchmark for people after that.
Shai: Thank you.
Joe: Now that you are here, what has the experience here been like?
Shai: The experience here has really been different. Playing with these girls, they are all new. In high school, after the first year I knew who was coming back, who was coming in, all that. This year, these are all new faces and I’m still learning all their games and trying to put it in with mine as well. It’s been a learning experience.
I didn’t expect things to be a-piece-of-cake easy. I expected it to be a challenge. As of right now, it’s a challenge you really have to face. You can’t come out here with soft skin. You really have to be hard and endure.
Joe: Playing and practicing in the post you are going up against some big people out there. They’re bigger—you’re quicker. How do you use your quickness to counteract Jaisa’s, Nike’s and Erica’s strength?
Shai: I know I can’t beat them in this game down low. They are going to body me every possession down low. So, if I bring you out here, to where I know I’m comfortable off the dribble getting to the basket, I’m faster, it’s easier for me to work with what I’ve got to balance with what I’m struggling with, or I don’t have at the moment which is body them down low.
Joe: Watching you out there, you have a tremendous tenacity when you go for a rebound. You might not get it but I see you work your way through, around or over the opponent, but you don’t stop. Where did that attitude come from? [NOTE: on a per minute basis, Shai and fellow freshman Bre’Asiaje Mathews are leading the team in rebounds.]
Shai: It’s from way back when I was younger and started playing and never take a play off. Even if I don’t get it. The fact that I went after for it, that next play, you never what can happen, you could lose the ball or anything. You just keep going afterwards.
Joe: You didn’t take many three-point shots in high school, and you haven’t taken many here. But on this team, everyone is taking them when they have a good look. How is that different for you? Are you comfortable taking those shots?
Shai: Technically, yeah. In high school, I could have, but mostly I scored most everything off of steals and fast breaks so I got a lot of just up and down. Here they put me in the position where I can actually shot or drive now. This is a different position. It is better. It’s better. [Smiles widely.]
Joe: Now you are more likely to get yelled at for passing up a good shot than taking one.
Shai: Yes. [Chuckling.]
Joe: How has the adjustment been to New Mexico? Had you ever been out here before this summer?
Shai: I came on my visit but other than that, I had never been out here before. But the adjustment here, I love it so far. I really do. The atmosphere is great, everything, really. The only thing I could say is different, is the weather change. It’s so dry. It was raining for about 20 minutes (this interview was conducted prior to our recent snow).
Joe: Have you had a chance to go out and see anything outside of the city?
Shai: No. But we are planning certain trips. We know we want to go to White Sands and a place called the Blue Hole that has water.
Joe: Yes, it’s a small lake well known for scuba diving.
Shai: We’re planning some trips to do stuff like that. But, I haven’t really had a chance to explore. We did go to the Balloon Fiesta, though.
Joe: They used to have a balloon event near Dayton with about 40 balloons. Thought I thought I knew what it was all about when I got here. I was wrong. What are your other interests besides basketball?
Shai: Of course school. The I want to pursue being a social worker after college. That’s a big thing for me. My Mom was one, so, that’s what I want to do. Other than that, I don’t do too much. I hang out with the team as much as I can. Then, I like to draw. Not many people know that. I keep all my drawings secret.
Joe: What do you like to draw?
Shai: Really, anything. It depends on what I have on my mind that day. So if I get a time that I’m not doing anything, I draw it up.
Joe: In conference some of the road trips are long–there will be lots of opportunity to draw on buses and airplanes.
Shai: Sounds okay to me.
Joe: You mentioned what got you interested in social work, what got you interested in basketball?
Shai: When I first started out, I was into track. Basketball was my Mom’s and Dad’s thing. Mine was track. Then my old best friend said, “Let’s try out for basketball”, so we tried out but I had no intentions of making the team. I didn’t know anything about basketball. I was, like, “This is not me”. But I tried out anyway and I actually made the team. Then my Mom said that now that I was on the team, you can’t quit. So she said let’s work on it. We would meet in the gym every day with some of my team mates working on different stuff. Left hand, right hand. My first game, I scored on the wrong basket. Nobody had told me that they switched ends of the court during the game. She (Mom) kept working with me and after a while, after my first year, I started getting a little better. It just progressed after that.
Joe: From Dayton to out here is a long 1400 miles. I’ve driven it plenty of times; what brought you out here?
Shai: When I came on my visit, I literally loved everything. I met the team, the coaching staff, the fan base, literally, everything was perfect. For one, I wanted to get far away from home, and I wanted to go somewhere where it could be my second home for the next four years or more. I wanted somewhere where I could feel comfortable. So when I came here, I literally fell in love with this and I knew this was where I wanted to come.
Joe: Well, we’re glad you did.
Shai: Thank you.
Joe: Well, you have an open mike now, what else do you want to tell people?
Shai: Everybody come out. Come to the game. Enjoy. Watch us win; watch us play. Go Lobos! Woof, woof, woof.