Usually a team would love to keep a highly-talented rookie who helped them reach the playoffs. Especially one who was a starter at only 20 years of age. But Shai Gilgeous-Alexander found himself packing his bags after his first season.
The Los Angeles Clippers decided to change their plans when Kawhi Leonard signaled he’d rather have his friend Paul George to play alongside him in a fight for the NBA crown. That meant Gilgeous-Alexander was sent packing with Danilo Gallinari and a number of future draft picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a blockbuster deal for George.
The off-season for Gilgeous-Alexander took another spin as the Thunder moved franchise icon Russell Westbrook after 11 years for point guard Chris Paul. That left Gilgeous-Alexander as one of the new stars of the entirely revamped Thunder team without the team’s old leader.
“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We don’t have the same name, the same body type, nothing like that. So I’m going to try to be myself and be the best me, and everything else will take care of itself.” Just like they have until now for the 21-year-old.
Shaivonte Aician Gilgeous-Alexander was born in Hamilton, Ontario, in the greater Toronto area, a growing hotbed of basketball that has produced more and more top young players. A large number of Canadians are heading south to the United States to high schools and colleges to improve their game. ‘SGA’ did as well, attending Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with his cousin and current New Orleans Pelicans rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Gilgeous-Alexander has good genes that helped his athleticism as his mother Charmaine Gilgeous competed for Antigua and Barbuda in the 400 meters at the 1992 Olympics. But she also gave him strong values.
“His mom has been good with him in terms of him being humble. He’s such a humble kid,” said Nate Mitchell, Charlotte Hornets assistant coach, who worked with SGA at the Canadian national team last summer. “He’s searching out what he needs to do … He’s a self-starter. Built-in motor. Super competitive.”
‘SGA’ initially agreed to attend University of Florida but always said Kentucky and head coach John Calipari were his first choice. Gilgeous-Alexander’s stock rose when he helped Canada take second place at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2016. And SGA followed in the footsteps of compatriots Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles and went to the Wildcats.
Gilgeous-Alexander would stay only one year in Lexington, averaging 14.4 points, 5.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 Steals before being selected 11th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft and landing with the Clippers – as what many believed was the biggest steal of the draft.
Gilgeous-Alexander compiled 10.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 73 games as a rookie and helped the Clippers reach the playoffs – bowing out to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
Instead of building upon his rookie season in Los Angeles, the whirlwind off-season left Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City. And the Canadian has excelled for the Thunder, averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists including a historic triple double of 20 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists against Minnesota – as he became the youngest player to achieve that stat line.
Gilgeous-Alexander also has the Thunder heading back to the playoffs with a team that could challenge others with maestro Chris Paul helping run the show along with sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, center Steven Adams as well as Dennis Schröder to form a strong base.
The drama of the playoffs still must be played out, but it would seem like there won’t be a repeat of last off-season – and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will not have to pack his bags again.
by FIVE Magazine #166 – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Text: Christian Orban