BOZEMAN — Only a few days before he made his college choice, Bilal Shabazz heard from Montana State assistant coach Shawn Dirden.

They immediately formed a bond, and the Trinidad State (Colorado) Junior College forward was intrigued.

Dirden shared life advice regardless of where Shabazz continued his career and also spoke with his mother about the school overall, Shabazz said. A couple days later, Shabazz received an offer from the Bobcats. A day after that, he verbally committed to transfer on Tuesday.

“They were all in right away. They knew who they needed so that was real appealing to me,” Shabazz said. “... Me and my mom were talking that whole day, and she just felt very confident with it. Even though it’s far from home again, she was comfortable with the coaching staff.”

The “again” Shabazz referred to was the distance each of his colleges have been from his native Milwaukee. But the relationship he formed with the MSU coaching staff was strong enough to take precedence over that. After spending the past two years at Trinidad State, Shabazz plans to sign with the Bobcats when the signing period begins April 15 and have two years of immediate eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 forward was attracted to the role MSU’s coaches laid out for him. This past year, Shabazz averaged 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 15.2 minutes per game while shooting 39.4% from the floor and 37.6% from 3-point range. He chose the Bobcats over offers from Cleveland State, Grambling State and Coastal Carolina.

Though Shabazz couldn’t take a visit to Bozeman due to the coronavirus pandemic-related in-person recruiting ban until May 31, he met with coaches via video call. He viewed a PowerPoint that showed him parts of the campus he would have seen with his own eyes. That proved to be convincing enough.

“I believe the plan they had laid out for me will be more successful than any other school that recruited me,” Shabazz said.

That plan includes being part of a four-out, one-in offense that places forwards around the perimeter. Earlier in the offseason, MSU head coach Danny Sprinkle said improving the team’s shooting and toughness were priorities in recruiting. After making 140 of 375 (37.3%) 3-point attempts in two seasons at a junior college, Shabazz showed himself as a capable fit.

Shabazz heard about the coaches’ desire for players who can dribble, pass and shoot, three of the skills Sprinkle mentions most frequently when discussing player evaluations. Shabazz added that his well-rounded game is among his strengths.

“They were looking for a forward that can really shoot the ball,” Shabazz said, “and they really believe I could be a big part of the team within the conference.”

When Shabazz was a freshman, the Trojans faced both Lamar Community College and Casper College. Jubrile Belo played for Lamar at the time while guard Amin Adamu and assistant coach Dan Russell were part of Casper’s team. Now all three are at MSU.

Belo was named the Big Sky’s newcomer of the year and Adamu played 27.2 minutes per game. Their contributions displayed how much the Bobcats’ coaching staff is willing to rely on junior college transfers. Shabazz is set to be one of at least seven junior college players on MSU’s roster in 2020-21.

“I just felt like it was the most success I’ve seen from junior college (players) of any college recruiting me,” Shabazz said.

At Trinidad State, Shabazz said he learned how to be a better teammate. He now joins a frontcourt with Belo, Devin Kirby, Borja Fernandez and Finn Fleute.

He also fills the second-to-last open scholarship spot for the upcoming season.

“Coach Sprinkle, he’s very determined to be better and have that winning group and bring the team together as a family,” Shabazz said, “because I’m really big on having good teammates. The coaching staff just made me feel really comfortable with them.”

Montana State men’s basketball 2020-21 roster chart

Montana State men's basketball scholarship chart

Position Class of 2021 Freshmen Sophomores Juniors Seniors
Guards Alex Germer Kellen Tynes Caleb Bellach Mike Hood Xavier Bishop
Patrick McMahon Tyler Patterson Nick Gazelas Amin Adamu
Jesse Owens (RS-Fr) * Abdul Mohamed
Carter Ash *
Forwards Great Osobor Borja Fernandez Bilal Shabazz
Sam Lecholat
Centers Jasper Reinalda Finn Fleute Jubrile Belo Devin Kirby
* denotes walk on

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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