Shamon. The name sounds spiritual - shuh-MAHN - as if implying a great dignity, perhaps. And strength.
What does it mean? Where does it come from?
“I have no idea,” Shamon Antrum says, laughing aloud at the question because he remembers asking it, too, of his mother, Birlue.
“She told me she was just being different. She said, `Some of your family wanted me to name you Timothy.’ I said, `Oh, no. Thank you for naming me Shamon, then.’ Timothy - that’s pretty common. Nothing like Shamon.”
So in bestowal, the name defined itself and helped define the man. Shamon: a creation of his mother, who wanted something different.
The differences in Shamon Antrum are subtle - differences owing to experience, to environment, to the emotional temblors that have rocked his life. The difference he has made in his new environment, however, is not subtle at all. Had he not joined Washington State’s basketball program with the recruiting clock striking 12 last fall, the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament bubble would have long since burst.
Statistics suggest as much: games of 29, 24 and 27 points in WSU’s last three Pac-10 outings have boosted the junior guard’s average to 14.2 He’s the team’s most accomplished 3-point shooter and, despite standing just 5-foot-10, is the No. 2 rebounder. And he consistently draws the most challenging defensive assignment - Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire one game, Oregon’s Orlando Williams the next, guards small and forwards as tall as 6-6 Charles O’Bannon of UCLA.
No one of such repute needs checking in Saturday’s game at Washington. But there are no more breathers for Antrum and the Cougs, who may need three wins in their last five games for the NCAA to pencil them in for another dance.
Last summer, that destination seemed no more likely than the possibility of unearthing a treasure like Antrum at such a late date.
Cougar basketball had a manpower crisis in the wake of coach Kelvin Sampson’s departure. The new man in charge, Kevin Eastman, was left with nine scholarship athletes - three of them little-used seniors.
Antrum, meanwhile, was going through a minor crisis of his own. After earning a degree at Dixie College, he committed to Maryland - then learned some class hours wouldn’t transfer. His second choice was Iowa State, where his scholarship was contingent on another player swooning in summer school. The player passed.
“I wasn’t worried - I still had a lot of schools interested,” Antrum said.
But no school needed him quite like WSU.
The Cougars heard he was still looking in August, flew him in for a visit just days before classes began. Eastman’s staff hadn’t seen him play or even watched him on video. They knew he had been a scorer in junior college and Connecticut player of the year as a senior in high school.
“Just from a numbers standpoint, we had to get somebody - we had to,” said Eastman. “It’s just that the majority of people available that far into the process have some sort of baggage. To get a player like Shamon …”
Shamon Antrum will admit to having some baggage, too. He’s just learned how to carry it.
If New Haven, Conn., is where the Ivy League starts, it has its mean streets, too. Antrum grew up on them and saw his friends sink into the drug culture, get shot, go to jail.
“People don’t think of Connecticut having ghettos,” he said. “They think of big houses, nice cars, the suburbs. But there’s a lot of violence and drugs in New Haven, like any city. You’re around it every day.”
Antrum’s father “left when I was 12 or 13 years old, but even when he was there, we didn’t have that much contact with each other. I guess one day my mom got fed up and decided it would be best if he left, because he was hurting the family more than he was helping.
“I was pretty much mad. I think every child needs both parents, so it hurt me at first. As time went on, I decided we were better off. I had always gone to my mom for advice anyway.”
Birlue Antrum ran a day care out of her home. If it was ever a drag for her teenage son to come home to a house full of screaming toddlers, the admiration he had for his mother took the air out of his attitude.
“I just respected her so much,” he said. “We had a really good relationship - almost like brother and sister instead of mom and son. Kids back home would tell me, `You get along so well. My mom, I can’t talk to her about the things you talk about. We can’t laugh or joke the way you all do. You’re so tight.’ I just told them that we understand each other.
“I told her everything, and she told me everything. If I’d stayed out too late or been seen with someone I shouldn’t have been with, she took care of it. There were no beatings, no punishment, but we settled it.”
The understanding was reinforced by his older brother, William, as well: Antrum’s future was in school and on a basketball court, not on the streets of New Haven. Spotted by UNLV recruiters at a prep tournament in Vegas, he wound up just up the interstate at Dixie when his score on the SAT came up short.
And then his first December at Dixie, his mother died of a degenerative heart condition at the age of 46.
“I went back home and I didn’t know if I wanted to come back to school or not,” he recalled. “There were a lot of things going on in my head. My brother sat me down and we talked, and the decision was all about doing the right thing - staying strong and continuing to do what she wanted me to do, which was going to school, graduating and taking my athletic ability as far as possible.”
Two years later in Pullman, another bad-news phone call found Antrum.
Returning to his apartment late one night, William Antrum and his cousin, James Cousins, were shot by a burglar - a man they knew. William took a bullet to the stomach and was in the hospital for nearly three weeks. Cousins was left paralyzed.
“It was a nightmare,” said Antrum. “When someone calls you, they want to make everything seem like it’s OK when it’s not. That’s the way it was with my mom. I didn’t know how serious it was until I got there, and then she was already gone. When they told me he was shot, they said he’s OK but the first think that came to mind was: he’s not.”
He wasn’t, but he would be. Antrum, who had flown back to see for himself, was back in Pullman for the Cougs’ sweep of Cal and Stanford.
“I look up to my brother - I did and still do,” said Antrum, who at 22 is three years younger. “When I was growing up, I really respected him because of the way he took care of the family. Everything he said about the streets and life, I really took heed of, because he’d been there. The things he experienced, I didn’t need to.”
William Antrum is back on the staff at a New Haven project called Q House, a recreation and resource center for kids. His work intrigues his younger brother.
“I go home and see those kids now that my mom took care of and they’re so grown up,” Antrum said. “It’s fun because they all look up to me. I’m kind of like their little role model.”
They could do worse. Shamon Antrum can, among other things, cope. Even his WSU experience proves it.
He was, after all, Eastman’s only recruit, a last-minute addition coming into a program of players all too used to doing it Sampson’s way. An East Coast guy on an otherwise West Coast team.
“It had to be hard on him,” Eastman acknowledged. “He wasn’t comfortable at first - heck, the other guys come in and here’s this kid who had only been on campus two days before. They were probably wondering, `Who’s he?’ “
Well, he’s Shamon Antrum. The name is more than a little special, and it fits.