Finding the light: How Shawn Roundtree escaped 'darker days' to become CMU's leader

Central Michigan point guard Shawn Roundtree works out before playing against Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

With eight seconds left against Weber State and a 2018 Junkanoo Jam championship on the line, Shawn Roundtree Jr. found the ball in his hands once again.

It was the same situation as a year ago in the Great Alaskan Shootout – the game was tied, and the pressure was on him. Roundtree took the inbound pass up the floor in a hurry, scampering to the 3-point line. 

He put his head down and drove towards the bucket. He lifted a floater on the run towards the net. 

It went in. 

“It’s those moments that you dream of,” Roundtree said. “This team looks to me when things are going bad. To be honest, I never really knew I’d get that chance with a team like this.”

Getting a second chance to play ball at a Division I school was something Roundtree knew wasn’t guaranteed. His story took multiple twists that sent him to questioning if basketball was the right path for his life. Roundtree had to find a way out of a hole that seemed to keep getting deeper.

Overcoming a change

Roundtree wanted to play basketball at a Division I university after graduating from Edwardsville High School. Missouri State gave him that opportunity. 

The six-foot, 185-pound guard felt he grew as a player during his freshman season with the Bears. Roundtree played in 30 games and earned a couple of starts. He was second on the team with 44 assists. Roundtree looked forward to his next season when expected to start and grow into a role of being more reliable on the court. 

Instead, he spent nearly his entire sophomore season on the bench due to an injury. 

Roundtree was forced to sit and watch someone else play the role he envisioned himself filling. Instead of playing and being a difference maker, he was only able to give support with words. Thoughts crept into his mind of if he would ever get a chance to start for the Bears again. He didn’t feel like he was in a right place at Missouri State. 

So, he began to explore other options. 

Roundtree transferred to Mineral Area College in Missouri. He described the experience of playing there as an unbearable grind. He went from a university at Missouri State where the enrollment was over 20,000 students to a community college with less than 5,000 students.

According to Roundtree, the campus was extremely smaller with nothing more than a KFC and Hardees down the road. It was a severe lifestyle change on and off the court. That hole of questions and wonder about his life path was just starting to dig itself.

“There were some very dark days, I was having a hard time staying strong-minded," Roundtree said. “I knew what level I wanted to reach, but needed the motivation to get there.”

Finding that motivation within himself was something Roundtree struggled with daily. Roundtree, who is very close to his family, struggled living so far from them. On some days is was tough for him to make it to early morning workouts.

In his first couple of games in the NJCAA, Roundtree still wasn’t finding a balance. On Nov. 4 against North Lake, Mineral Area College earned the 80-66 vicotry. Roundtree, however, sputtered to a 1-of-5 shooting line with just three points and three turnovers.

After not playing in games for over a year, he felt like he had built a situation up so high that it was impossible to knock down. The hole was getting deeper and the feeling of depression was setting in. 

The night following his first true in-game struggle on the hardwood, Roundtree called his father, Shawn Roundtree Sr., looking for answers to life.

“I kept wondering if this is where I even wanted to be and if I wanted to even (play basketball) anymore,” Roundtree said. “(My dad) continued to give me confidence and told me things would eventually come around.

“I think now you could say they did.”

Senior guard Shawn Roundtree prepares to take his free throw on Dec. 8 at McGuirk Arena.

Roundtree Sr. said he knew days like this would be coming following his son's transfer from Division I to the NJCAA level. He talked to Roundtree Jr. every night he had the chance to make sure his son kept his goals the same they had been since high school.

“He had a hard time adjusting to a style of basketball where people came from all over and had no sense of playing like a team,” his father said. “I prepared myself mentally and emotionally to help him because I saw the picture on the wall. He had to know he was good and no one could tell him he wasn’t.”

Roundtree’s play on the court the rest of the 2016-17 season proved himself. He paced the Cardinals to a No. 9 ranking in the NJCAA and a 28-3 record. In addition, Roundtree was named to the All-Missouri Community College Athletic Conference First Team after averaging 10.9 points, 3.1 assists and two rebounds per game.

Roundtree got a call from CMU assistant coach Kyle Gerdeman and took the opportunity. With it, was a chance to climb out of that never ending hole.

Finding a home with CMU

CMU was looking for guards to replace former standouts Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson. Davis said it was no secret from day one that his program had a leader in Roundtree. The real question was how he would adjust to playing at the Division I level again.

The style of basketball is a lot faster with much more complicated schemes. Davis said Roundtree picked up the Chippewas system with much quicker than most of the players he has coached.

“(Roundtree) just kind of takes over and makes the right play and that is something you can’t really teach,” Davis said. “I have confidence in him with the ball at all times and he keeps the guys heads up when there is no one else to turn to on the floor.”

Roundtree answered all questions regarding his ability at the Division I level. He started all 36 games for CMU in 2017-18 and has done the same this season. He led the team with 151 assists and was No. 6 in the Mid-American Conference and was the teams No. 2 scorer at 14.8 points per game. This season, he is second on the team once again with 15.5 points per game. 

The numbers speak for themselves.

“Shawn is writing his own book right now and whatever comes of it, all that really matters is he feels successful and happy man,” Roundtree Sr. said. “He works so hard to achieve what he has. Central Michigan has been a blessing to allow him to reach his full potential personally, athletically and academically.”

Roundtree said he couldn’t be more happy to be with the Chippewas. 

After battles with depression and a wonder if he even wanted to play the game he loved anymore, Roundtree found a place he now calls home. Becoming a Chippewa and leader for the basketball program filled the hole he once had dug himself full of questions and desperation for one break.

“My story and journey is very complex but I’m here for a reason,” Roundtree said. “I’m just doing my best to show why.”