Larry Brown doesn’t like to play kids.
That much has been true since Brown got his head coaching start in the ABA, and has continued throughout his tenure as a head coach across nearly every level of basketball. Detroit Pistons fans will remember the Darko Millic saga, where the number two pick in the NBA draft sat on the bench for much of his early years in the league, and Mustang fans will recall how long it took Keith Frazier, the program’s prized recruit, to get regular starter’s minute.
That’s what makes the achievements of Shake Milton so incredible, as he emerges as one of the country’s top freshman.
Obviously, due to the NCAA sanctions that came down earlier this year, Brown was not the coach for the first nine games of this SMU season, instead handing over the role to associate head coach Tim Jankovich. Coach Jank has less of an aversion to playing the youngsters than Brown, and thus inserted Milton into the Mustangs’ rotation very early in his collegiate career. Milton was fantastic during his first nine games, clearly earning the respect of coach Brown, and thus maintaining his spot in the rotation when Larry returned.
In Milton’s two games under Brown, he played over 30 minutes per contest, including crunch time minutes against a plucky Colorado team that won eleven straight before falling to the Mustangs in the championship game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. Milton was tasked with guarding Dominique Collier, one of the Buffaloes top performers, and did his duty admirably, limiting the Colorado guard down the stretch.
Milton has quickly developed into one of the best all around players on the SMU team, trailing only Jordan Tolbert in points per game amongst non starters with 10.7. Additionally, he has contributed 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game.
Not bad for a freshman, especially considering the question marks about minutes.
However the thing that truly sets Milton apart from other freshman guards in the country is his incredible level of efficiency. Shake is shooting 55.8% from the field and 45.5% from long-range, hitting the 50-40 benchmark for shooting percentage that so many guards are judged on. Additionally, while he only shoots 77.4% from the free throw line, he currently averages just two attempts per game, something that will undoubtedly improve over the course of his career. After all, Brown has developed the likes of Nic Moore into one of the best free throw shooters in the country last season, and there’s no reason he can’t do the same with Shake.
As the Mustangs’ season rolls on, the talk of going undefeated continues to heat up. Just five unbeatens remain in Division 1 college basketball. With Gonzaga looking discombobulated and the Mustangs appearing to be the class of the American Athletic Conference, it’s hard to imagine anyone on SMU’s remaining schedule taking it down. Gonzaga and SMU play on Feb. 13 on ESPN2.
That commitment to winning and standard of excellence is incredibly important to the development of a young guard like Milton.
Coming into the season, many SMU fans were met with great anxiety as they pondered what their team might look like after Moore graduated this year. Now, there’s no doubt who the starting point guard will be.
Milton, much like the rest of his SMU teammates, remains criminally underrated amongst a bevy of Power Five conference freshman, but has been exceptional this season at nearly everything he’s been asked to do. As he gets stronger on defense, and more adept at getting to and converting at the free trow line, he could very well develop into one of the nations’ top point guards, much in the model of Moore.
With Milton in their back court, Mustang fans are in very good hands.