In a nutshell, the career Nick Shepherd has had at Long Beach State has been defined by unrealized potential, false hype and unmet expectations.
The 49ers faithful have caught glimpses of the talent that head coach Dan Monson once declared the future of the program, but never the consistent light of a superstar he was once projected to be.
Every season we have wondered, will this be Shepherd’s breakout year? The 6-foot-9 forward from Texas had a chance in 2012, when the 49ers were looking for pieces to fill the void left by the graduations of Casper Ware and company. Shepherd began the season as a starter but was ultimately buried in the depth chart behind a trio of transfers.
When some of those transfers and a couple other players were dismissed from the program, Monson had holes to fill once again. Shepherd was on the short list of returners contending for a starting job, but he was once again relegated to the bench.
Now, after a regular season interrupted by injury, Shepherd is in a position to contribute once again. He was sidelined for two months when he broke his wrist in a game against North Carolina State but finally saw good minutes this weekend, starting with the March 6 game at Cal State Northridge.
Shepherd didn’t score any points in that game, but he did make an impact on defense, grabbing seven rebounds and making two blocks in addition to a number of hustle plays.
“I was really excited with Nick [Shepherd’s] minutes,” Monson said after that game, a 91-83 loss. “He gave us a little bit of energy, especially on the boards and really gave us a spark.”
Shepherd played a defensive role in the following game, a 74-67 win over UC Riverside, blocking two more shots while adding two rebounds and two points. He said he is still rusty offensively since coming back from his injury, but that defensively he can be a big contributor.
“On the defensive end I know I can make a huge impact with my athleticism and hustle plays like I did at Northridge,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd’s skill set can hold a lot of value for a team that plans to win the Big West Tournament with its defense. He may not start and score double digits, but his long arms and athleticism can take away inside shots and force teams to work the perimeter.
“I don’t have many games left, so I really wanted to come back as fast as I can and make an impact,” Shepherd said. “I was trying to hustle in practice, and I found a niche and a role that I can fulfill in order for us to win.”
It seems that every tournament brings out the best in an overlooked or unheralded player. With his injury, Shepherd has become just that. Now healthy, he is in a position to step up and provide a valuable weapon for the 49ers to use in their most important games of the year.
This season may not have been Shepherd’s breakout year, but he can still be the Big West Tournament’s breakout player.