As a freshman at DeMatha two seasons ago, Johnnie Shuler showed brilliance in small doses at one of the region’s best basketball programs. The young point guard played in 32 games and scored 12 points and had three assists in a late season win over Bishop Ireton in his best showing. But in the midst of the Stags’ 29-7 season, Shuler admits that he didn’t have the time or the energy to sharpen his skills individually.
So when Shuler transferred from DeMatha to Theodore Roosevelt midway through the 2011-12 season, he knew the sacrifices he would have to make. Shuler sat out the remainder of the season after playing 16 games for the Stags, and then had to wait for his opportunity to prove himself at the powerful DCIAA program. He worked to learn coach Rob Nickens’s up-tempo offense and display enough discipline to earn a spot in the starting lineup for his junior season.
“I thought it was going to be hard for him to transition,” Nickens said. “He competed every day in practice like it was a game.”
Nearly a year later the payoff has finally arrived for both Shuler and the eighth-ranked Rough Riders. Theodore Roosevelt has trounced opponents in its last four games, winning by an average margin of 18.7 points per game, and has collected quality wins over Good Counsel and Stonewall Jackson. The Rough Riders’ key win arguably came on Dec. 16 in a 72-69 win over Princeton Day that saw Shuler take over. He had 21 points in his matchup against Princeton Day’s star guard Aquille Carr – and it was exactly the type of performance that he envisioned for himself two years ago when he was struggling to stand out at DeMatha.
“The win, it was big for the team to get our name out there,” said Shuler, who is averaging 10.7 points per game and shooting 86 percent from the free throw line. “My performance was like big, big for me. This year I just want to finish the season, and have fun doing it.”
Familiar faces have made Roosevelt feel more like a home for Shuler – he’s played with guard Everett Quick since he was seven years old, he said, and he’s found a high-scoring backcourt mate in Mike Warren (11.1 points per game). It was Warren who delivered the game-winning three-pointer against Princeton Day – and his presence has made Shuler more comfortable with his role as a distributor.
Shuler and the Rough Riders will get one of their toughest tests of the season on Saturday, when they meet top-ranked Montrose Christian (8-2), which boasts one of the best frontcourts in the area behind Mark Williams, Ishmail Wainwright and Jordan Swopshire. Shuler said he is preparing for the game the same way he has for the past year – by treating practices like games.
“I got to know the guys a lot better (through practice),” Shuler said. “It feels good to be back playing.”