Throughout the summer, SoonerSports.com will focus on each of the returning Sooners from Oklahoma men's basketball in a reoccurring feature series, "Commit to the Plan"
Jordan Shepherd's freshman season was defined by taking advantage of ever-changing opportunities. From finding an opportunity at Oklahoma late in the recruiting process to learning the college game from an established veteran to seeing a spike in minutes after a teammate's season-ending injury, Shepherd progressed through his rookie year with a level head and was always open to the next challenge.
Shepherd was the final Sooner to be added to Oklahoma's 2016-17 season roster, signing with OU in May, months after the rest of the 2016 signing class. The Asheville, N.C., native was originally committed to James Madison, but after an end-of-season coaching change he found himself once again in the heart of college recruitment.
Shepherd came to OU with the ability to play both point guard and off the ball at the wing, displaying an agile quickness and solid mechanics. Throughout his rookie campaign, he saw his game continued to evolve thanks to some unforeseen opportunities.
Shepherd's season was defined by two phases – one of growing through practice and one of growing in game minutes.
“I definitely improved all the way throughout the season,” said Shepherd. “There were stretches where I played a lot, some I didn't play any. Towards the end when Jordan Woodard got hurt and I had to play a lot of the games, I felt like I really improved and got a lot more experience.”
With the return of senior guard Jordan Woodard from the previous year's Final Four squad, Shepherd had the opportunity to go up against one of the top guards in program history on a daily basis throughout the offseason and early months of the season.
“He helped me get better every day, just in practice,” said Shepherd. “He's one of the best players I ever played against and he challenged me to get better. Even when he was beating me down in practice, he'd still be giving me pointers on how to stop him or someone else I'd be guarding in a game.”
When Woodard's career ended prematurely on an ACL tear at Iowa State, Shepherd's role was drastically increased for the final weeks of the season. Shepherd had averaged 14.4 minutes in his first 21 games – highlighted by a two game stretch of 18 points against Memphis and 13 versus Auburn in mid-December – before seeing an increase to 24.7 minutes a night in his final seven games. During the stretch after Woodard's injury, Shepherd produced 5.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
He believes the opportunity of those extra minutes, especially in the heart of the tough Big 12 schedule, helped him not only improve his game in the short run, but make him aware of what he and his teammates need to elevate in order to compete at the highest level.
“It motivated me a lot,” said Shepherd. “I know what this team can do, like our big win at West Virginia. It definitely motivated me to get better, seeing what the competition was like and how I need to up my game.”
Shepherd cited 3-point shooting, defending bigger guards and developing more strength as some of his offseason goals.
As a team, Shepherd says it's obvious a new, clear mindset exists in the locker room through the first few weeks of summer workouts.
“The mentality is completely different,” said Shepherd. “It's like what coach said – press the reset button. Everyone is more energized, more motivated, more hungry. It's just more positive around here.”
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