KHALIL ON DEFENSE
Khalil Shabazz has won state championships, played for legends, & tested his game against rising NBA stars. In his year sitting out before playing at the University of San Francisco, Shabazz shares his journey & what fans can expect next season.
Jeremy Mills: Welcome Khalil. We met at The CrawsOver this summer in Seattle. As a player, what is that league like for you?
Khalil Shabazz: It's just a great experience. Jamal Crawford, he's like the godfather, and he's doing it more so for the kids. He brings out college alumni, high school players, overseas guys, NBA players, junior league players and puts them all on the same court, so we can all compete against each other. That’s a beautiful thing.
Jeremy: Compared to the other places you play, what is the competition like?
Khalil: You're always basically on the court with some type of professional. That's the best competition you can get. Luckily for me, I was able to play with a team full of professional players- Spencer Hawes, DeJounte Murray, Marquese Chriss, Martell Webster, Tucker Haymond, and Drew Eubanks. Basically, my whole team was professional players. I got a chance to be on the court and play with those guys and just pick their brains so I can get better myself.
Jeremy: DeJounte is a guy you played with previously at Rainier Beach. Thinking back to what he was like then, to playing with him this summer on Cityside Hoops, what was different about him?
Khalil: He's always been a mature guy, but now that he's been in the league for a couple of years, you can just see he's matured and his understanding of the game has just gone through the roof. He's always been a guy who's willing to learn. Him playing with NBA Hall of Fame names like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, picking their brains, he's just getting smarter and making his game better, so I'm just trying to do the same thing he's doing to them, which is pick his brain.
Jeremy: Is there any particular piece of advice that he gave you this summer?
Khalil: He's like a big brother to me. He just always just preaches to me, "Stay in the gym, always stay hungry, always want to get better, always trust your game, don't allow anybody to change who you are or change your game and just always be coachable and always be willing to learn."
Jeremy: Who is the toughest person you had to play defense against this summer?
Khalil: That's a tough one. I would either have to say either Abdul Gaddy or Ahmaad Rorie.
Jeremy: What made Abdul in particular so hard to defend? Talking about him, he spent time with the Oklahoma City Thunder this pre-season.
Khalil: You never really know what he's going to do. He'll look like he's getting ready to pass then shoot or look like he's getting ready to shoot then pass. He's already taller than me and having to guard taller guys is already kind of difficult. When I would play against him, it was just-- I would play my defense, but it wasn't as effective as it would have been against somebody else.
Jeremy: Now thinking back, watching you this summer, your defense is something that people immediately notice. What motivates you to put the energy and effort in on that end of the floor?
Khalil: Me and my brother, Shadeed Shabazz, we always grew up just playing defense because without defense you can't get stops. You can't win games. So defense is always the most important thing. It's an energy thing, so I always have a lot of energy, and it makes it even easier to play offense.If you get a steal and get a fast break, that's easier than having to go half-court offense.
Jeremy: Is it something that you consciously work on conditioning-wise to be able to sustain that energy?
Khalil: Yeah, for sure. You can't just play defense one possession and then try to take a break the next one. For me, I'm a conditioned dude, I go on runs occasionally, and I usually don't really run out of breath when I play basketball. I always give 110%. Just me being hungry and me already loving to play defense. I'd rather save my energy on offense than to save my energy on defense for the next offensive play. That's just my mindset and it just makes it easier for me to always be able to get up and play defense.
Jeremy: I read that between you and your brother Shadeed, you’ve won a total of five state championships. Is that true?
Khalil:: Yes, that is true. He has three back to back. I got my first ring my freshman year and then I won another one my junior year, so I have two and my brother has three.
Jeremy: Being a young athlete and finding success like that, what did it teach you? Or what did it change about the way you approached the game or the way you play the game?
Khalil: It was just more so a huge accomplishment for Rainier Beach and for my family and the Shabazz name. It honestly drove me. When I won my first ring, my freshman year, it just drove me to keep wanting to win rings. Who doesn't like winning? I planned on winning every year in high school, but we fell short my sophomore year at the state championship. My senior year, we didn't go on to the championship, but yes, once you get that feeling, that feeling of winning the state championship and knowing you're the best team in the state, it's a feeling that you never want to give up. It just drives you to want to win every year, and just do whatever it takes to win. I think that's kind of the Rainier Beach mindset.
Jeremy: Their team this year is going to be nice too. I spent time with a lot of them at Jamal Crawford’s Elite 30 camp, and they are stacked. It's going to be interesting to see what they can do.
Khalil: Yes, for sure. I know all those guys personally. They're all ready to come in and put in the work. Some of them have already got that feeling, like Jamon [Kemp], Marjon [Beauchamp]. They already kind of got a taste of what that feels like. I know they're hungry, they want to come in and get it done, so we're gonna see
Jeremy: They're going to be playing for a legendary coach Mike Bethea. As a coach, what impact did he have on you?
Khalil: When he played, he was a point guard, so we already have that connection. He was already giving me pointers and just trying to help me understand the game from a different perspective, rather than just being the guy who scores all time. He helped me understand what it's like to really play basketball and have something that you want to get. Which is a win and a championship. Mike is the most legendary coach in Seattle. He's a really good dude, and he really values the game of basketball.
Jeremy: Moving to your collegiate career, you played in Ellensburg last year with Central Washington University. In your first college game you scored 28 points off the bench. What was different about not necessarily being the starter, having to come off the bench and do your thing?
Khalil: I think it definitely pushed me to be a better player and just want to prove myself, because in high school and on my AAU teams, I always started. When they told me that I wasn't starting, it wasn't more that I was disappointed, I was just like, "Okay, so they don't really know what I'm capable of doing, so now I got to show them what I can do, so I can start, like I want to." So, after that first game I came off the bench, I think we were losing pretty badly at the time, so coach said, "Put the guys in, and see just see what they can do." I ended up showing what I could do. I ended up with 28 points, and after that I started every other game.
Jeremy: Was there anything that surprised you about that season?
Khalil: I don't really try to get caught up in awards or anything, so I didn't really expect myself to get Freshman of the Year or even honorable mention, so that was a huge surprise. (Shabazz was named GNAC Freshman of the Year in February 2018.) We had a lot of injuries for big players on our team, and the fact that we made it to playoffs was huge for Central Washington.
Jeremy: This season, you've transferred to the University of San Francisco. After you sit out this season, what can fans expect from you going forward?
Khalil: They can just expect a scrappy little guard who plays defense first. I would consider myself a scoring guard, but I never have a problem getting my teammates involved. I bring a lot of energy on the offense and defense, so you don't really have to worry about that, and just bring in the winning attitude to this program. It's already a great program. We've done a lot of things, we've had a lot of great players come through here, but coming from me specifically, I would just say that energy is big. I’m going to bring energy when I'm in the game when and I'm out of the game. I want see my team win just like I want to win.
Jeremy: Now before I let you go, I follow you on social media, and I’ve seen you throwing up the ‘iBall.’ How did you come up with that? Is that yours?
Khalil: It all started like a long, long, long time ago, like when I would go on AAU trips, and play in different AAU tournaments. I would say like around third grade, they had like t-shirts and stuff that had ‘iBall’ on them, and I just thought it was a cool little name. It didn't really start until about like 2015, when I was a sophomore in high school. It was during the season and I kind of just woke up one morning, and I just decided to start calling myself iBall, and it spread it real quick. My teammates started calling me iBall, then family friends started calling me iBall, and then I changed my Twitter name, my Instagram name, all that stuff. Now, it's to the point where it's like an actual nickname. I even made like a little hand signal for it.
Jeremy: That's my favorite part. It fits so well.
Khalil: Yeah, I thought it was a good little signature for it. My senior year, I had shirts made for all the guys that I would say are in my iBall clique. We all had shirts, and it’s a part of my identity now and it just fits so perfectly. It’s my image now.
Jeremy: One other thing that I‘ve noticed with your social media is you’re not afraid to freestyle. How long have you been doing that?
Khalil: I’ve always loved music. Music is always just-- It helps you get through tough times. It helps you celebrate the good times. Music is a part of everybody whether you want to admit it or not. Everybody loves some type of music. Growing up me and my brother we're just trying to rap, trying to freestyle on instrumental beats and stuff like that. It was around the time when I started saying ‘iBall’. I was like, "Let me just get on instrumental and just rap." It sounded alright, but I’ve been doing it ever since my sophomore year, and now I just see myself getting better and better just with practice and just listening to different type of rappers and different type of artists. Now I’m doing it as a hobby.
Jeremy: We appreciate your time man. We appreciate following your journey. Anytime you want to come back on, anytime you want to make me an intro, let me know.
Khalil: Yes, for sure, thanks for having me bro.