Cali native Jaden Shackelford will have 50-plus supporters at NCAA Tournament, including this important mentor

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

SAN DIEGO — If the cheering sounds extra loud when Alabama basketball guard Jaden Shackelford scores Friday, there's a good reason. 

He’s expected to have more than 50 friends and family members in attendance as the 6-seeded Crimson Tide takes on 11-seed Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 3:15 p.m. CT at Viejas Arena in San Diego.

Shackelford is from about two hours north of where he will take part in March Madness 2022. So, Alabama getting put in the West Region and getting sent to California couldn’t have worked out much better for his supporters.

One who will be in the stands is Jason Crowe, Shackelford’s AAU coach with EYBL program The Truth. Friday’s game will be the first opportunity for Crowe to see Shackelford play in person since high school.

“He played a huge role being a mentor for me,” Shackelford said. “He taught me a lot of things. It’s cool to be back on the West Coast where all of these people can come see me again. He played a vital role in me getting recruited and getting to where I am now.”  

Alabama guard Jaden Shackelford (5) plays against Vanderbilt during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

It all started one day when Shackelford arrived at one of Crowe’s practices after his sophomore year of high school.

Shackelford got to practice with the team to show what he could do, even though there wasn’t really room for him. Crowe, who played professional basketball around the world for 13 years, already had his team set. Shackelford hadn’t come early in the process to be evaluated so that the program could place him on a team.

“But when he came, his intensity, his competitive nature was just there,” Crowe said.

The team was leaving the next day for a trip to Virginia. He wasn’t about to be able to hop on board that quickly. Crowe was going to do everything he could to make room for Shackelford on the next trip, though. He was that impressed. 

“I don't know who’s not going,” Crowe said. “I’ll figure that out. But he will be on this next trip.”

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Next trip, the team went to Washington D.C. and Shackelford joined them.

The first game, Crowe said Shackelford scored 16 points in about three or four minutes.

“The rest is history,” Crowe said.

Shackelford certainly had some ups and downs. It wasn’t all smooth-sailing from there. But Crowe watched him improve as a basketball player and a leader over their two years together.

“To see his journey and where he is, watching him grow and be successful, I was there with him when a lot of schools here said he wasn’t good enough,” Crowe said. “Flat out.”

And now Shackelford is back in that state that houses several of those schools, and he’s set to play in the NCAA Tournament for a 6-seed as its leading scorer.  

Crowe plans to shake Shackelford’s hand and give him a hug. The coach is also bringing a few of his current AAU players with him. He wants them to see Shackelford, who he sees as a positive example for younger players, including his son, Jason Crowe Jr. Crowe said his son having a chance to watch Shackelford work has helped shape his work ethic. He called it a full-circle moment for his son and other players on the team to have a chance to watch Shackelford play Friday.

Crowe has wanted to get to Alabama to see Shackelford play at the college level but it just hasn’t worked out. On Friday, he will finally have his chance.

“For me to go down there to see him play,” Crowe said, “it’s just unbelievable.”

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.