They are not your run of the mill college basketball players:
One already has a national championship ring.
The other is Shak.
While University of Dayton point guard Shakeela “Shak” Fowler spells her nickname a bit differently, she is named for Shaquille O’Neal.
“As the story goes, when I was a kid my grandad would pull me up and I was kind of solid,” she said. “He started calling me Shak, like in Big Shaq.”
She started to laugh: “Of course my whole body would probably fit in one of Shaq’s pants legs.”
O’Neal – a 15-time NBA All Star—is 7-foot-1, 325 pounds and wears a size 22 shoe.
Fowler said she is 5-foot-2, not the 5-6 she’s listed as in the UD program. According to Flyers records, there have been just two players in program history — Lawana Henderson (1973-74) and Patty Palcic (1970-74) — shorter than her.
“Yeah, Shaq would probably look right over me,” she said with another laugh. “I’d be like, ‘Hey, right here! I’m down here!’”
It might be the same with Araion “A.B.” Bradshaw, who is the Flyers starting point guard, though both share the positon almost equally.
Bradshaw said she’s not the 5-foot-6 she’s listed as either: “On a good day I’m 5-4.”
But she has come to UD with lofty credentials, even more so than Bradshaw, who made her mark at two previous colleges.
Coming out of Boston’s Tabor Academy, Bradshaw was rated the No. 32 prospect in the 2016 Class by ESPN’s HoopGurlz. She went to South Carolina and played in the victory over Mississippi State in the NCAA Tournament’s title game.
Her national championship ring is back home. She’s never worn it and said no one here has mentioned it to her: “They knew about it before I got here.”
More than her past, people here were focused on her future.
The program would need a point guard after the gradation last spring of Jenna Burdette, who started 117 of the 120 games she played in at UD, had scored 1,344 career points, was the team MVP as a senior and a first team All-Atlantic 10 pick.
Green started to recruit Fowler two seasons ago while she was leading Trinity Valley Community College in Texas to the junior college national championship game.
Before that – after coming out of Rufus King High School in Milwaukee – she started 25 games her freshman season (2015-16) at Illinois State, averaged 11.2 p.p.g. and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman team.
Trinity Valley’s head coach Gerald Ewing knows Green and touted Fowler, who chose Dayton over Utah.
It was then that Bradshaw – who Green had recruited out of high school – entered the picture, as well.
“When she decided to transfer from South Carolina, she reached out and we were able to get her the second time around,” Green said.
Although she played in 24 games at South Carolina her first season, Bradshaw averaged just 6.6 minutes and about one point per game. With two other returnees and a Penn State transfer, the program had a glut of point guards that could continue to limit playing time.
Although both Bradshaw and Fowler were at UD last season, neither played. Bradshaw had to sit out a season per transfer rules and Fowler tore her left ACL and meniscus just before fall practices were to begin.
“When you hear ACL, forget it, you know it’s done,” Fowler said. “You’ll have to have surgery. I knew it was serious because it made me cry and I never cry.”
Now with the tears dried and the rehab done, Fowler – like Bradshaw – could play this season.
As Green put it: “Both are little, but both have so much energy and play so much bigger than they really are.”
‘We can make each other better’
“They each offer us something a little different,” Green said. “A.B. gets to the basket, but she’s more of a facilitator. Shak looks to score. She can shoot it from the three and she gets to the basket, too. And they both can put constant pressure defensively on the other team.”
After Wednesday night’s 71-50 victory over Richmond at UD Arena — where the pair combined for 11 points, seven assists and two steals — Bradshaw leads the 12-8 team in assists and steals and Fowler is third in scoring (8.8 points per game) and second in assists.
“Obviously, A.B. came from a really good program at South Carolina and they won a national championship,” Fowler said. “She’s got a lot of experience and knows the game from a perspective that I don’t. So I think about what I can lean from her and implement into my game. And I think there are other things I can share with her.
“I think we can make each other better.”
And in the process the can make opponents miserable.
“It’s no fun playing against smaller guards,” Fowler said. “We can irritate bigger players.”
Bradshaw agreed: “We can keep up the pressure and make somebody’s job hard and just be pests all night long.”
Both guards had some signature moments Wednesday night.
Early in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw had a one-minute span where she made three impactful plays in a row. She scored on a layup, then a few seconds later tied up Richmond’s Jade Hinds-Clarke to force a turnover.
Then next time the Spiders had the ball, she stepped in front of the driving Alex Parson, who was whistled for the charge and fouled out.
Before that, with just under two minutes left in the third quarter, Fowler drove down the lane and saw Parson in front of her. With a quick behind the back dribble, she side-stepped her, then headed toward the hoop where the Spiders’ 6-foot forward, Amy Duggan, awaited. With a juke step she got around her, too, and scooped in a layup.
As she explained after a game, last week: “Everybody thinks when you’re small, you can’t hang the them. I’ve always taken pride that I can hang with anyone. I can hang with the best and I can hang with the biggest.”
‘Pretty special’ duo
Both players say they’ve found a home at UD.
“When I picked my first school, I just didn’t know everything and what would be best for me,” Bradshaw said. “I figure the first time you might get it wrong, but as long as you get it right in the end, it’s all good.
“People here are pushing me out of my comfort zone. It’s making me a better person and challenging me academically.”
She’s a civil engineering major.
Fowler said UD is different than some programs: “I have friends playing all over the country and some tell me they don’t have the same family feel we have. Someone here always has your back.”
The point guards have “very different” personalities, Bradshaw said.
Green agreed: “Shak is crazy outgoing. Her personality is huge. She can be just hilarious. A.B. is a little more quiet, more reserved.”
Regardless, they mesh.
“She’s like my best friend,” Bradshaw said.
“That’s my home girl, for sure.” Fowler said.
Green regularly sees that: “They’re both always cheering for the other one. There’s no drama between them. That doesn’t always happen in a situation like this.
“And that makes them pretty special.”
Even more so than one having a national championship ring and the other being Shak.