Make room for Tahj Shamsid-Deen at Auburn (Lauren Barnard photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. --
Some college coaches thought he was too small. Or maybe too quick? That his stellar assists-to-turnover ratio didn't cut it? That coming from a winning tradition that brought his high school three Georgia state championships in four years wasn't good enough?
Auburn liked point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen for all those reasons, siged him and now is reaping the benefits of a freshman who is gaining confidence every game. He's started every college game he's played in.
"Auburn was looking for a point guard to run the show. And they loved my style of play and said they'd love me to come to the school," Shamsid-Deen said.
He'll take his game to Arkansas on Saturday for a 5 p.m. game that Auburn hopes to use to turnaround its most recent basketball fortunes.
Arkansas is 12-6 overall and 1-4 in the SEC. Auburn is 8-8 overall and 0-5 in the SEC after a series of close losses, and despite the continued development of Shamsid-Deen. He scored a career-high 17 points in Wednesday's loss at Mississippi State as he continued to run the offense to the tune of 26 assists and only four turnovers over the last seven games. The numbers have grown. His determination is the same. His high school team, Columbia in Decatur, Ga., only lost a handful of games while he was there and was in the state title game every year he played.
"I've definitely have been winning most of my life, and I want to continue that here at Auburn," Shamsid-Deen says.
Shamsid-Deen said he could have signed with Butler or Richmond. Other schools apparently were concerned about his height. He listed at 5-foot-10, 163 pounds.
Sonny Smith, the former Auburn coach who is now part of the Tigers' broadcast team, said Shamsid-Deen could have played on any of his teams. Smith has judged him by how he plays, not how tall he is.
"Some people like small guards, some don't," said Auburn coach Tony Barbee. "There were a lot of big name, high-level schools that messed around with Tahj in his recruiting, but his size kept some of them from going all the way in.
"I have never been a guy that looked at how big a guy is. It's not how big you are in terms of height and weight it's about how big you play. Tahj has played big throughout his basketball career and that's really becoming, at this level of Division I, the SEC, he has led this team and has the kind of assist-to-turnover ratio that he does as a freshman because he is a very smart kid, a smart basketball player."
Shamsid-Deen is learning the college basketball life, but he says it's been easy enough to adjust to Barbee's demanding practices.
"My AAU coaches since I was 8 were exactly like Coach Barbee," Shamsid-Deen said. "How you see him on the court and at a practice, that's how they were when I was 8 all the way through middle school, all the way through high school. My high school coach was the same exact way. They're serious. I take what they say, not how they say it."
Shamsid-Deen has listened.
"His assists-to-turnover ratio numbers as a freshman is off the charts," Barbee said. "I have been really pleased with his play, his attitude and his leadership abilities. I knew that's what we were getting when we recruited him. The best thing about Tahj is he still hasn't tapped into his full potential. As he is getting more and more comfortable, you see what he is capable of night-in and night-out. He is just a freshman playing the hardest position there is in college basketball and I think he has made a really good adjustment."
Shamsid-Deen is taking it all in.
"For me to start as a freshman is a big accomplishment," he said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: