- God Shammgod has mentored players like Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups in the church of crossover. Will Dennis Smith Jr. be the latest disciple? Shammgod is a believer.
It’s January. God Shammgod munches on a turkey burger, lounging inside a large ballroom within the Ritz Carlton in downtown Dallas. Now a Mavericks assistant coach, the ball-handling phenom has just filmed a documentary interview chronicling his quixotic journey to the NBA sidelines. Moving on to his order of sweet potato fries, Shammgod offers a bold opinion on the ensuing NBA draft. “He’s the best point guard in this class,” Shammgod professes.
Not Markelle Fultz. Not Lonzo Ball. Not De’Aaron Fox. Shammgod has eyes on NC State floor general Dennis Smith Jr, the 6’3” dynamo who pulverized rims across the ACC. Shammgod is a believer. Smith plays both ends. He can score in all three levels. He can make pro-level reads out of the pick-and-roll. Shammgod is far from alone, but long removed from the consensus. Scouts across the league agree each elite point guard prospect from the 2017 draft class—Frank Ntilikina and Donovan Mitchell, included—harnesses the talent to emerge above his peers. But Shammgod is adamant Smith has no equal. “He’s been making that claim for me since my sophomore year in high school,” Smith said.
The duo first met at Under Armour’s 2014 Elite 24 Camp as Shammgod, having returned to Providence College as a graduate assistant, attended to coach the country's top prodigies. Shammgod tutored Smith after the first practice of the event, showcasing meticulous ball handling drills and displaying footwork that would make a tap dancer blush. “For him to do that and not be a full-time player currently, it’s amazing,” Smith said. They reconnected at Adidas Nations and other premier prospect camps, each occasion not complete without private training. Shammgod kept barking the same trope. You’re the best point guard in your class. “Like he’s a fortune-teller or something,” Smith said.
Flash forward to this June, when Smith slipped down the draft board, his contemporaries’ names practically being called one by one. Dallas happily scooped him at No. 9, and shortly after Adam Silver announced the selection, Smith’s phone vibrated with a congratulatory text from his new assistant coach. “I’ve always known God works in mysterious ways,” Smith said. The Mavs’ new point guard is referencing divinity, yet he’s also the latest disciple of Shammgod’s church of crossover.
Kobe Bryant was the first. The Lower Merion prodigy coerced La Salle Academy’s star senior to bolster his handle in the early mornings before the 1994 ABCD camp. Chauncey Billups followed.
After exploding in the 1997 NCAA tournament, Shammgod entered the NBA draft, training and sharing an apartment with Billups in Stamford, Conn. “He could do some of these drills with a tennis ball, and I’m still doing ‘em with a basketball,” Billups said. “His crossover was just so low and so fast, it almost looked like he was rolling it on the ground.” Washington selected Shammgod in the second round. “Even when I was with the Wizards,” Shammgod said. “I used to show Chris Webber some dribbling stuff.” He worked with Isaiah Thomas briefly before the the draft in 2011. After one session, he claimed the diminutive point guard, barely on the second–round radar, would one day blossom into an All-Star.
“There’s a still a legend around Shamm,” Billups said. That lore primarily stems from Shammgod’s patented move, labeled his namesake, where a player lurches the ball forward with one hand before recollecting it with the opposite paw and snapping the rock across his body. Having cut his teeth at Providence, Shammgod is scripting a second act as a preeminent specialty coach. “He accomplished something totally out of the norm,” says Sonny Vaccaro, the former sneaker executive who organized that fateful ABCD camp. “A high–profile player with a gigantic sense of his own values, making it in the league as a coach: That’s a great story.”
Shammgod believes he’s found his star pupil in Smith. They broke down pick-and-roll reads in real-time while Smith rested on the bench in Summer League, when he wasn’t torching opposing defenses and emerging as a Rookie of the Year favorite. "I think the biggest thing I teach is angles and creating space and staying low to the ground and you use counter moves," Shammgod said.
Fate may have brought Smith and Shammgod together, and with divine guidance, Smith may make his mentor’s prophecy a reality.