Preferred walk-on earns his scholarship

Kendal Shell heard the news from new coach Richard Pitino on Monday.

Jace Frederick

Kendal Shell wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen.

He came to the University of Minnesota as a preferred walk-on. His father, William Shell, said then-head coach Tubby Smith saw Shell play at a high school tournament and told him he’d have a chance to earn a scholarship after his sophomore year.

But a day after the end of Shell’s second season with the Gophers, Smith was fired, and  Richard Pitino was named the Gophers’ new head coach.

Shell was left wondering if he would ever get that elusive scholarship.

“I kind of had my doubts,” he said. “I didn’t think it would [happen]. … I just knew if I kept working hard, anything could happen.”

Those doubts were put to rest Monday when, at the end of practice, Pitino lined up all of the players to announce Shell would be on scholarship this semester.

“At first I wasn’t sure if I heard what he said right,” Shell said. “I just kind of had to take it in for a second.”

A second was all he had. His fellow Gophers ran to congratulate their teammate.

“It was a great moment,” said senior guard Austin Hollins. “Everyone was excited for Kendal. … He’s like a brother to us.”

Pitino said when he arrived on campus, Shell had a long way to go. He was out of shape and overweight.

But he dropped the weight quickly — 25 to 30 pounds in the offseason, Pitino said. The junior guard has improved more than a lot of players on the team, his coach said.

“[It’s] a testament to him as a kid,” Pitino said. “[He] has worked extremely hard on his body as well as his game.”

Shell said the first person he told about the scholarship was his mother, Gloria.

“She just kind of paused; she said, ‘Are you serious?’” Shell said. “Then she made me tell her again, and then she made me repeat it again.

“And then she just started screaming, and a couple of tears went down.”

William Shell said he and Gloria were “so excited” about the news.

“He has worked so hard,” William Shell said in a text message. “My wife and I are so proud! What a blessing.”

 Shell will graduate this spring with a degree in business marketing education with minors in leadership and sport management. He’s doing so in just three years.

He said in October that he plans to enter graduate school at the University next year as he uses up his final year of basketball eligibility.

Shell is interested in the business side of sports. He’s enjoying his time with the Gophers as he gets an up-close look at the ins and outs of collegiate athletics, watching Pitino and athletics director Norwood Teague on a daily basis.

“I think it’s a great experience just preparing me for the future and life after basketball,” Shell said. “I really want to savor that moment. … I just want to take what I’ve learned and do something good for the future.”

Pitino said Shell is both a great student and a great kid.

“[He] will be successful one day in life,” he said. “I’m proud of him.”