Feb. 12, 2002
It started in 1984 when Bill Wennington crossed the border and joined Lou Carnesecca's St. John's basketball team. The trend continued with Rick Fox landing on Dean Smith's squad at North Carolina in the latter half of the same decade. Santa Clara recruited British Columbian Steve Nash in the 1990's, and Rick Pitino caught on and imported Toronto native Jamaal Magloire to Kentucky.
All of these coaches realized that Canadian basketball talent was the key to any good hoops program. Washington State Head Coach Paul Graham jumped on the bandwagon by signing Shami Gill, a Mission, British Columbia product who was the top high school post player in the entire country in 2001, according to Hoops Canada.
Gill was considered the total package and recruited by dozens of schools, including Arizona State, Auburn, Mississippi, Oregon State, Seton Hall, and Xavier. America's neighbors to the North were no match, as he racked up 26 points and 18 rebounds per contest as a junior in British Columbia, then took his game to the Philip Pocock School in Toronto and put up 24 points and 14 boards per game.
Following in the footsteps of Wennington, Fox, Nash, and Magloire, it was time for Gill to make a run for the border, the United States-Canadian border that is.
'I really liked Washington State because it was on the West Coast and it was in the Pac-10,' Gill said. 'I grew up watching the Pac-10, so that has always kind of been my dream. The coaching staff was real honest with me from day one, and when it came to my recruiting trip, I met the team. The players are awesome guys.'
Along with fellow freshman Thomas Kelati of Walla Walla, Wash., Gill stepped into the Cougar lineup and made an immediate impact.
'I expected to play, but I didn't know exactly how much,' Gill said. 'I expected to come here and work my butt off and my goal was to start. I wanted to do whatever it took. If I didn't start, I would be happy to come in and do my job.'
Gill achieved his goal, starting in 15 of 21 games this season while averaging over four points per outing, including 12 against California in Berkeley. Those numbers aren't bad for a true freshman playing in one the nation's most competitive conferences, but they are a far cry from the Shaq-like numbers the former hockey player bloated the box score with in high school.
'I kind of expected that I wouldn't put up big, big numbers,' Gill said. 'I just wanted to come in and do whatever I could to contribute.'
Though Gill is content with letting his game develop, the lack of success in the win-loss column has provided some frustration this season. Gill hopes that he and Kelati can eventually redirect the fortunes of Cougar hoops during their tenure in Pullman.
'We have had a lot of discussions about that,' Gill said. 'We basically tell each other to keep our heads up and keep working hard. Our hard work will pay off and we will get our wins.'
Gill and Kelati's relationship goes beyond the hardwood, as they spent their first semester on the Palouse as roommates. Though they work in unison on the court, they have developed somewhat of a rivalry off of it.
'It was fun the times when we were roommates. A lot of video game action. We played everything from Madden, to NBA Live to Grand Theft Auto to James Bond. We played everything,' Gill said. 'When it came to sports games, I was the better player, for sure.'
Though Gill apparently dominates on and off the court, there is more to him than just basketball and being from Canada. His parents immigrated from India, and his father Baljinder started a highly successful shake and shingle mill near Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Gill family also believes in the Sikh religion, which has a following of over 20 million people worldwide, and is around 500 years old. According to Shami, whose real name is Shaminder, one of the characteristics of Sikhism is long, first names.
'Basically, in our culture, they give bigger names. I just cut it because... I really don't like that name to be honest,' Gill joked.
Shortening their names made things a little easier for Gill and his brother Harpinder, whose is now known as Happy Gill, not to be confused with Happy Gilmore. The resemblance of Happy's name to the classic Adam Sandler flick has provided a source of comedy for the siblings.
'Yeah, we cracked up a lot when that movie first come out,' Gill said.
Though he always finds time to laugh, Gill is serious about making the Cougars a winner.