Shavon Shields knew it had been a pretty good week, but he didn't find out just how good until his cell phone started blowing up with texts messages on Monday morning.
Friends and family alike wanted to congratulate Nebraska's freshman guard after it was announced he had been named the Big Ten Conference's Freshman of the Week. It was certainly a well-deserved honor for the Olathe, Kan., native, as he averaged 23.5 points on 72 percent shooting to go along with 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in two games last week.
His breakout performance in the Huskers' first conference win of the season at Penn State on Saturday definitely put him on the map in the league, as he put up a career-high 29 points on 10-of-11 shooting in a 68-64 victory. His 29 points were just one shy of the single-game record by an NU true freshman, which was set by Tyronn Lue (30) back in 1995-96.
Shields became the first Husker to ever win the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week award and the first freshman to earn a conference honor since Toney McCray won the Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Week in 2008-09.
While he's certainly gained plenty of attention around the state and the league for his play the past few weeks, Shields maintained a humble approach when asked about his reaction to winning the award on Monday afternoon.
"It's cool, but we need to look at the bigger picture and start winning some games in the Big Ten," he said.
Though he may want to keep the focus on the team, there's no denying the progress Shields has made individually over the course of the season. After missing nearly all of fall workouts with an elbow injury, he missed five of the first six games of the year when ruptured the bursa sac in his surgically repaired elbow which then became infected.
Just when it looked like it was almost back to 100 percent, Shields re-aggravated his elbow once again after getting it hit during practice. As if that weren't enough, he also had to overcome a jammed wrist.
Needless to say, there was a point where Shields wondered if he would ever be healthy enough to make any type of impact for Nebraska this season.
"It was really frustrating," Shields said. "I mean, it was real tough on me, and my confidence was really lacking when all that happened. It was just injury after injury. But that's in the past, so hopefully I can keep this confidence going and keep helping the team win."
Head coach Tim Miles could see that frustration building, and he made it a point to sit Shields down and have a one-on-one talk with him shortly after the Huskers' blowout loss to Ohio State on Jan. 2.
"Shavon and I a few weeks ago sat down and had a heart-to-heart about, 'Hey, hang in there,'" Miles said. "He was frustrated, because he couldn't practice and he didn't feel very good. He's a freshman, so it was going pretty fast for him mentally too. I just told him to hang in there, and he's just gotten progressively better every game."
Shields said that talk with Miles was a turning point for him, as he was able to take a step back see what was holding him back on the court. Starting with NU's close 47-41 loss to Wisconsin, where he hauled in a team-high eight rebounds, Shields said he knew the only way he was going to be a factor was to be more aggressive and make his presence felt.
"That Ohio State game, I mean, I was over-thinking everything and wasn't really attacking and going after it defensively or offensively," Shields said. "I was just kind of there. He showed me, and he was like, 'You see this? I believe in you,' and things like that. 'You just need to keep with it, get confident and start attacking in everything you do.' I feel like I've gotten better every game since he said that."
Shields' role got even bigger when senior forward Brandon Ubel missed two games with an elbow injury of his own. In losses to Michigan State and Purdue, Shields averaged 13.5 points and 7.0 rebounds, including a then career-high 18 points against the Boilermakers.
When Ubel returned to the line up on Saturday against the Nittany Lions, the two played off of each other brilliantly to help guide Nebraska to it first Big Ten win and snap a five-game losing streak.
"I thought in the preseason, before Shavon hurt his elbow, I thought they played really well together," Miles said. "When we got those guys in practice together, we thought that was always our best group, and you could see that again on Saturday afternoon."
With the way Shields has seemingly improved every time he's stepped on the court since he's finally gotten healthy, Miles is understandably excited about what could be to come for his budding star.
"Finally, in the last month he's had just consistent practice, and that's showing because he's coming out and playing just a little better every game," Miles said. "In the last week, obviously I know he was Freshman of the Week in the Big Ten, and he probably could have been Player of the Week. I think it's all well deserved for him, because he's been really great for us all week."
Around the rim
***Ubel said his elbow felt very good after Saturday's game, and he's fully expected to remain in the lineup for Tuesday night's game against Illinois and possibly return to his spot in the starting five.
***Ubel also talked about the controversial final seconds of the Huskers' win over Penn State, as the Nittany Lions were awarded four consecutive free throws after a late flagrant foul was called on Ubel for supposedly hitting a PSU player with an elbow.
"It was definitely confusing," Ubel said. "I really didn't know what happened, to be honest. I kind of went to the huddle, and Coach told us they called a flagrant foul, so they were going to get four free throws. I said, 'Who was it on?' And he said 'You.' I said, 'Me!?!' It just happens in the heat of the game. I watched the replay, and I actually did clip the guy. I know the rule is if anything happens, it's automatically a flagrant, which is unfortunate, but fortunately it didn't cost us the game in any way."
***Nebraska took Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday. Miles said it was important to not only give players rest to recover physically at this point in the season, but also to give them a mental break from the grind of the Big Ten schedule.
"I think you worry about both," Miles said. "We got them yesterday off. They needed an off day. Get out of the gym get away from each other. I think that's really important that they're able to do those things. At the end of the day, the physical wear and tear is not going away. It's mid-January, and so we've still got another two months of this or whatever it is if we're doing it right. We've just got to keep the guys fresh and ready to go, but man, I think the mental grind is just as important as the physical grind."