Rhode Island received a back court boost when former East Carolina guard and 2016-17 American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team selection Jeremy Sheppard committed to David Cox’s program last weekend.
If we crank back the time machine to Sheppard’s 2016-17 All-Rookie season at ECU, he averaged 9.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 26.6 minutes of action. Not surprisingly, the peripherals from the then freshman are modest; as he faced D-1 level defense and length. Sheppard connected on 36.5% of his attempts from the field and 33.8% from three-point range. He also shot 65.6% from the line.
After a season on the shelf, the 6-1 guard transferred to junior college at the College of Central Florida, in Ocala, Florida, and suited up this past year. The Richmond, VA native averaged 17.1 points and 4.3 assists per game with strong peripherals. He shot 49.1% from the floor, 44.2% from three-point range, and 82.8% from the charity stripe.
Let’s examine how Sheppard – who is immediately eligible to play the next two seasons – fits with the Rams:
Those familiar with Sheppard’s game characterize him as a “true bucket getter.” Many players can be segmented into shooters versus scorers. The former group are guys you want to run off the three-point line and deter them from having catch-and-shoot opportunities. The goal is to force them to put the ball on the floor and make a play or score over length. The latter group are guys that you defend by giving respect to their first step and forcing them to shoot over the top versus allowing them to take the edge and get downhill against your defense.
By all accounts, Sheppard seems to be a true three-way scorer. He can attack you off the bounce, has a mid-range game, and his 44.2% from long range would’ve placed him second in this year’s A-10 behind Jonathan Laurent of UMass (46.7) and ahead of VCU’s Malik Crowfield (39.5).
That said, junior college level defense is not Atlantic 10 level defense, so even with a year-plus of growth I’ll take a wait-and-see here. Assuming his percentage settles in between his ECU and CCF numbers, that’s still a boon to Rhode Island and – most importantly – his presence will be a threat that improves spacing on a nightly basis.
While he may be a bucket-getter, he appears also to be a willing passer as his 104 assists at ECU testify. I’m told he has excellent vision. He’ll want to cut down on turnovers, and simply having Jeff Dowtin in the same back court will aid him in that regard.
Defensively, Sheppard averaged over a steal a game at ECU and tallied 32 during his freshman year. Coaches I’ve spoken with who have seen his game up close believe in his measurables and ability to guard at the A-10 level.
— juice #️⃣2️⃣ ™ (@jShepp_2) March 30, 2019
Sheppard joins Dowtin, Fatts Russell, Christion Thompson, Tyrese Martin, and incoming freshmen Gregory Hammond and Mekhi Long as the more perimeter oriented types on the URI roster.
Last season, Thompson was adjusting to game speed after sitting out a year. Dowtin and Russell were entrenched and not pushed the way, say, Jarvis Garrett was by Dowtin a few years back. Martin was getting his feet wet, and the now departed Omar Silverio saw scant time.
Don’t discount the value that a better group of perimeter players competing day-in and day-out in practice brings to the team. Sheppard will play a huge role among them in adding talent and his presence also figures to further Russell’s development.
I think they got a great guy in Jeremy Sheppard! @jShepp_2
— Justin L (@xNINJAxSAMUSx) April 2, 2019
Spacing; Pressure; Firepower.
At game time, Sheppard’s forecasted contributions should aid offensive spacing, which is critical to success. Teams will not be as effective in staying in the gaps to deter dribble-penetration or harassing all-conference performer Cyril Langevine if Sheppard can tote the same outside touch he showed to Kingston this season.
The junior will also be able to help handle the ball against pressure. Dowtin, Russell, and Thompson are all adept, but it doesn’t hurt to have reinforcement. Efficient advance of the ball will help URI get into its offensive sets more quickly, and more sharing the load means less energy used on the part of the main cogs, like Dowtin. That helps legs on defense too. Finally, Sheppard’s ability to make free throws is welcome in close-and-late situations.
It all adds up to more firepower, versatility, and options offensively for the Rams. On night’s when one guy isn’t clicking, that depth comes in handy.
D-1, Take 2.
Normal graduations, departures and arrivals each year continue shifting the makeup of this Rhode Island team more towards David Cox as chemist and away from the previous regime.
Eight players on the roster, including transfers Sheppard and Antwan Walker from Georgetown, are directly attributable to Cox. Sheppard missed the entire 2017-18 season at ECU for a violation of team rules before landing at CCF. Winning cultures are predicated on habits off the floor. Then on-court results follow.
As it was in the past for those like Kuran Iverson, this fresh start is an opportunity for Sheppard, a year-plus wiser, to seize.