DJ Shelton sets sights on pro career

Zak Menchel | Evergreen Reporter

For Washington State redshirt senior forward D.J. Shelton, the road to success has not always been a clear-cut path.

Shelton bounced around four different California area high schools, redshirted for Cal State Fullerton his freshman year, and played one season for Citrus College before finally landing on his feet at WSU in 2011. He arrived in the Palouse with three years left of playing eligibility.

“I’ve overcome a lot of adversity, hate and negative energy towards me,” Shelton said. “I got past it the only way I knew how, with a lot of grinding and working hard.”

Shelton said coming to WSU gave him the chance to be featured in a big-time college basketball program and helped him get away from Los Angeles where he could improve his skillset as a basketball player and get his mind in the right place.

With just one game remaining in his collegiate playing career, it has become obvious to both Shelton and those around him that he has undergone a great deal of growth in Pullman, both physically and mentally.

“I like the fact that he’s matured on and off the court and grown up so much as a person the last few years,” WSU men’s basketball Head Coach Ken Bone said. “He had a few things personality wise that he needed to work on, and there were a couple bumps in the road, but all in all throughout all the programs that I’ve coached over the years, he might be one of the most improved people I’ve seen.”

During a span of three seasons in Pullman, Shelton added more than 30 pounds of mass to his once slight frame.

In fact, after WSU suffered a loss to its bitter rival, Washington, in the first round the Pac-12 Tournament last season, Shelton made an effort to hit the weight room harder than he ever did before.

Since then, the Cougar big man has been a force to be reckoned with on the boards this season. Shelton leads WSU with 261 total boards and averages 9.3 rebounds per game, which ranks second in the Pac-12 Conference.

“The weight I added has definitely helped me more with rebounding and finishing in the paint this season,” Shelton said.

Bone indicated that the 6-foot-10 and 250 pound forward always had the ability to be a great rebounder, but it was a specific area he wanted Shelton to focus on.

“He’s quicker than a lot of the other big guys, a good athlete, and we needed him to rebound,” said Bone. “He’s taken to that role and really embraced it because he’s one of the leading rebounders in the Pac-12, and that’s quite an achievement.”

Shelton has quite the athletic pedigree with multiple members of his family tree experiencing success at both the collegiate and professional levels in both football and basketball.

Most notably is his Uncle Lonnie Shelton, who enjoyed a 10-year career in the NBA with the New York Knicks, Seattle SuperSonics, and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Despite the obvious mark the Shelton family made on the wide world of sports, D.J. said he doesn’t see any of it as a particular advantage to himself.

“Well, maybe being blessed with good genes helped,” he said.

The senior said his whole family supports him and wishes him well, but his greatest sports mentor has actually been his mother.

“I talk to her almost every day, and she helps me out and keeps my head in gear,” he said. “She lets me know when I’m doing bad and also how proud of me she is when I’m doing well, and that keeps me going.”

Shelton will play his final game as a Cougar at Beasley Coliseum on Saturday against the UCLA Bruins.

He indicated that the days when Beasley Coliseum had packed stands, especially against rival Washington, were among his most memorable moments in college.

After lacing up his sneakers for the final time as Cougar and graduating in May, Shelton said there is absolutely no doubt he would like to take his talents to the NBA. The WSU forward would prefer to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers in order to better provide for his family.

If the NBA does not work out, Shelton said he would either get his master’s degree and go to law school or become a sports agent.

“I think WSU has made me into a responsible man and prepared me well in both basketball and life,” Shelton said. “It’s been a real tough final season but it taught me that things won’t always go my way.”