Gopher guard undaunted by infrequent play

Spotlight on the Gophers 100BLACK GOPHER 100



There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2013-14 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight these players.

This week: Gopher junior basketball player Kendal Shell

Near the end of a blowout non-conference Gopher win earlier this season, the Williams Arena’s designated student section began chanting “Play Kendal” for U of M junior guard Kendal Shell to get inserted in the game.

Kendal Shell Photo courtesy of U of M
Kendal Shell
Photo courtesy of U of M

To this longtime reporter sitting far too close to the section than preferable, it sounded too much like the silly “Play Ho-se-a” chorus oft-heard during the mid-1990s when fans disrespectfully called for Hosea Crittenden, the diminutive guard seen by many as the Gopher human victory cigar whenever a home win was safely secured. It was no different then than now, over two decades later, as non-student athletes mockingly call for a walk-on student athlete to get in essence “garbage time” on the raised floor.

When the MSR asked Shell about the fans’ disrespectful gesture afterwards, he said, “I heard it a little bit. I’m used to it now.”

The six-foot Shell from St. Louis, Mo. earned his spot on the Gophers roster in 2011 and played in 10 games. Although he played one less game than the year before, he earned a letter last season — the guard hit his first collegiate basket in one game and later played a career-high four minutes and grabbed a career-high two rebounds.

“Ever since I came here, the whole team has been supportive [of him] the entire time,” said Shell, the only walk-on on the Gophers team. “They don’t see me as a walk-on but as another player. I think that’s the best part. We all compete every day — each one of us loves playing basketball.

“I just enjoy being out there, competing every day. I love the competition,” noted Shell, who was a four-year letter winner, averaged 13 points a game, and played on four league title winners at Webster Groves High School. He graduated with a 4.02 GPA, was an academic All-Stater and National Honor Society member, and won his state’s Prudential Service Award, one of the nation’s top service awards.

“I took a lot of AP [advance placement] courses in high school,” he recalled. The young man then matriculated to Minnesota to study business marketing education as a major and leadership as his minor. Shell said he hopes to use his education someday in a sports-related field.

Therefore, playing on a Big Ten basketball team is a bonus for Shell, who will graduate this spring after only three years. “When I found out I could graduate early, I was pretty excited,” he said. “Next year I’m going to do grad school for my fourth year in sports management. School was good, [but] it was tough trying  to balance time management-wise.”

Not unlike his teammates, Shell still had to adjust to the collegiate level of play. With no playing time guarantees, as well as knowing that whatever minutes he can get will be few and far between, “Keeping a competitive attitude” at first was challenging, he admitted.

“Even if you are not going to be playing much, you have to compete at everything else. You have to be the one giving the most energy at practice — be the loudest one on the bench. Knowing that it is about the team [and] not about yourself — I think that is most important,” said Shell.

The junior Gopher guard nonetheless maintains a ready position for whenever his number is called: “I try to act just as [any other] player on the bench.”

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