Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Brings His Friends on Ride to NBA Stardom

In his spare time, Gilgeous-Alexander would hoop with Montoya and Castillanes at their Filipino basketball league — the start of a basketball odyssey. Gilgeous-Alexander spent his sophomore year at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School on Hamilton’s west side before he transferred again, this time to Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn., as he sought better competition.

Gilgeous-Alexander eventually landed at the University of Kentucky, where John Calipari, the team’s coach, knew he needed to be tough on him. Otherwise, Calipari was going to hear about it — from Gilgeous-Alexander’s mother, Charmaine Gilgeous, a former Olympic runner for Antigua and Barbuda.

“When he played well, she would call me and say, ‘Don’t you let up on him,’” Calipari said.

Gilgeous-Alexander had arrived at Kentucky with a hitch in his jump shot — Calipari compared it to Charles Barkley’s herky-jerky golf swing — and spent the early weeks of the season mostly coming off the bench. By the middle of January, he was blossoming as a starter. By June, he was the 11th overall pick in the 2018 N.B.A. draft, headed to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Gilgeous-Alexander played so well as a rookie that the Thunder put him on their wish list. That summer, when the All-Star Paul George wanted to be traded to the Clippers from Oklahoma City, the Thunder insisted that Gilgeous-Alexander be included in the deal.

Now in his fourth season with the Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander is the face of a franchise that should come equipped with training wheels. Although Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 draft, is out for the season with a foot injury, the Thunder have a core that includes Josh Giddey, 20, and Luguentz Dort, 23. Even amid his emergence, Gilgeous-Alexander has never sought to separate himself from his teammates.

“I might have sworn at Lu before,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “but me and Lu lived together, and we’re like brothers so it doesn’t count.”

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