Has Shungu Earned a Spot on the Vermont Mount Rushmore?
By now you should know the story of Vermont’s own Ben Shungu. A local legend around Burlington, Shungu was twice named the Burlington Free Press Mr. Basketball and helped carry Rice Memorial High School to three state championships during his time as a Green Knight. Now in his final year at Vermont, Shungu will look to emulate his previous track record of success with the Catamounts.
As a former redshirted walk-on player, the bar was set pretty low for Shungu. Expectations for the young guard were marginal at best, yet Shungu worked his ass off day and night and suddenly has become one of the best stories in Vermont lure. When it’s all said and done, Shungu might very well find himself on the Mount Rushmore of true Vermont Catamounts.
During the course of his “sophomore” year, Shungu really came into his own and proved he was more than capable of handling the intensity of division one basketball. The young guard played in 33 games, including a 15 point outing against Florida State in the NCAA Tournament. The following year would see Shungu raise the bar even higher, as he became a full-time starter and was named the America East Defensive Player of the Year. Is a repeat performance on the horizon?
Shungu truly established himself as a defensive menace last season, but don’t you dare label him as just some one-dimensional player. If you took a comb through Shungu’s stat sheet you’d see the young guard hitting his marks across the board on a nightly basis. While he might be known for his defense, Shungu is more of a swiss army knife for the Cats. After improving every year to date, what type of performance can we expect for Shungu’s final chapter?
How Shungu can Make an Impact
As just mentioned, the growth and development of Shungu these past few years has been phenomenal. After only making a handful of appearances during his freshman campaign that saw him average 1.1 points on 6.2 minutes per game, Shungu jumped up 4.3 points the following year and finally 7.7 points on 23.7 minutes a game last year. Unfortunately injuries limited Shungu to 23 games a season ago, but he still managed to finish fifth on the team in points, second in rebounds, fourth in assists and fifth in steals and blocks per game.
Of course, the biggest impact Shungu made came on the defensive forefront, as he took home the America East Defensive Player of the Year. As a jack-of-all-trades guard who excels on the defensive end there could be some comparisons to Boston Celtics standout guard, Marcus Smart. Much like Smart, Shungu is one of the unquestioned leaders of the Cats and pours his heart into every game. Just don’t expect any flopping from Shungu.
Once again the Catamounts will depend on Shungu to set the tone on defense. Despite only being listed at 6’2, Shungu has the strength and tenacity to take on anyone. He uses his speed and athleticism to cut off lanes for opposing guards and muscle and wingspan to bang around in the post with the forwards. It’s a true testament to Shungu’s defensive abilities that he was crowned the best defender in the America East a season ago despite only playing in 23 games.
Don’t sleep on Shungu’s offensive abilities either. He drives to basket very well and is a solid three-point option, with a 42% career average from beyond the arc. Likewise, his passing is some of the best on the team, finishing just 0.4 assists shy from team leader Robin Duncan a season ago. If history is any indicator, we’ll see an even better Shungu this winter. Now that’s a scary thought.
Room for Improvement
Shungu seems to have all but reached his ceiling defensively, though perhaps getting recognized nationally for his defense would be impressive, albeit unlikely. As previously mentioned, Shungu does a little bit of everything and has made great strides year-over-year, so the hope is that the senior guard can take it one step further come winter. What areas in particular could use an extra touch up?
The year-over-year improvement is clear as day for Shungu, as he’s seen upticks in nearly every statistical category. However, there are two noticeable areas that stick out as possible concerns. The first is his shooting percentage – most notably from beyond the arc. Shungu is a solid long-range shooter, but by no means is he considered a specialist from deep such as current and recent Catamounts like Stef Smith, Everett Duncan and Ernie Duncan.
Last year, Shungu averaged about two shots from deep a game (47) and only connected at a 34% rate (16). A 34% clip isn’t terrible, but it’s a far cry from his 56% rate during the 2018-19 season. Granted he only took 27 attempts, but after attempting 20 more shots from deep and hitting on just one of those, his three-point percentage took a massive hit and seemingly diminished him as a threat from outside. With Vermont in need of outside shooters, Shungu will need to clean up his shot in order to gain back his credibility from beyond the arc.
Another facet that needs to be addressed is his free-throw shooting. Throughout his entire career Shungu has never been great from the charity stripe. This was one of the few areas that didn’t see that year-over-year improvement, as his 56% was in the bottom five on the team last year despite averaging over two attempts per game. With his long wingspan Shungu can attack the basket and draw a foul with ease, but if he continues to be a liability from the stripe opposing teams will look to expose this weakness – especially in late game scenarios.
Since Shungu has seemingly gotten better every year it’s time to shoot for the stars right? Without a doubt Shungu has far exceeded the expectations that were set for him when he first arrived on campus, but where exactly is the ceiling for the local legend? Maybe the ceiling is the roof? Obviously the predominant goal is another America East championship and trip to the NCAA tournament, but let’s narrow down some individual achievements that Shungu should have his eyes set on.
Repeating as America East Defensive Player of the Year has to be up there. Besides being the reigning champ, Shungu has a great shot of doubling down on this award, as he is also the only returning member from last year’s America East All-Conference Defensive team. If Shungu can recapture the award, he’ll become the first Catamount since the great Marqus Blakely to have been a multiple recipient of this prestigious award. Likewise, another selection on the America East All-Conference team would surely follow suit.
Another objective for Shungu to aim for would be landing on one of the America East All-Conference Teams. The defensive team is a great honor in and of itself, but someone as versatile as Shungu should want the recognition for all facets of his game. He’ll need to stay healthy throughout the season and continue to hit his marks on both ends of the floor, but if that happens there’s a good chance Shungu will finally receive the acknowledgement for his strides as a complete basketball player.
Finally this last goal is a bit of a cop out, but just continue to grow and develop as a player. The underlying theme of this piece would be the growth Shungu has made since his freshman year, so it only makes sense that we’d hammer it home one last time. With Anthony Lamb and Everett Duncan both departing, Vermont is in need of play makers. Stef Smith and Ryan Davis will likely fill the void, but Shungu should be ready to step in as a dependable playmaker and third or fourth option. Who knows what Shungu plans on doing after this year, but if he continues to improve across the board he could ultimately parlay his success at Vermont into a career overseas. Either way, Shungu should be in-line for a helluva season.
In lieu of his redshirt season, Shungu is officially the longest tenured Catamount. Vermont is very top heavy in terms of upperclassmen this year and this senior-laden Cats team should once again find themselves on the top of the America East food-chain. Walking off Patrick Gym as a champion one last time would be a phenomenal ending to Shungu’s unique and storied college basketball career.
Shungu will once again join star guard Stef Smith in the starting backcourt for the Cats when they open the season. While it would seemingly make sense for Shungu to see an uptick from his 23.7 minutes per game average just a season ago, the coaching stay may ultimately stick with those numbers yet again. The Cats are DEEP at guard and likely won’t push Shungu should any type of nagging injuries occur. Nonetheless, Shungu will be a prominent fixture for the Cats once more, as he looks to cap his final year in the green and gold with a return to the NCAA Tournament.
2020-21 Statistical Predictions
- 23.3 minutes per game
- 8.1 points per game
- 2.3 assists per game
- 5.5 rebounds per game