When AX Armani Exchange Milan reloaded its roster ahead of the 2020-21 season, most of the headlines surrounded the signings of veterans such as Luigi Datome, Malcolm Delaney and Kyle Hines were the biggest. However, the addition of 26-year-old Shavon Shields has been as important as any.
The forward was one of Milan's top performers all season long and shined with one of the greatest Game 5 performances in EuroLeague Playoffs history to lift his team past FC Bayern Munich and into the Final Four in Cologne, Germany – less than 200 kilometers from where Shields started his professional career with Frankfurt Skyliners in 2016. Playing for the title is exactly what Shields had in mind when he left TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz last summer to join Milan.
"Talking to Coach Messina this summer about his vision for this club and for the team, part of it was making a Final Four and being one of the premier clubs in Europe, so it feels great," Shields said recently.
"If you walk around our facilities, you see the great players and great history the club has."
Shields had an idea of what he was getting into when he signed for Milan. He finished his rookie season with Dolomiti Energia Trento and helped it reach the 2018 Italian League finals, where they lost in six games to Milan. So even though the COVID-19 pandemic has kept Shields from performing live in front of the Milan faithful, he understands the power of the team's fan base.
"I know how passionate they are, how much they love their team and they love the game," Shields said. "As far as the history, you see if you walk around our facilities, you see the great players and great history the club has and I think of all of us here are just happy to be part of it."
Shields grew up in a sports house. His father, Will Shields, played 14 seasons of professional football for the Kansas City Chiefs and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2015. Though Shavon chose a different sport, watching his father taught Shavon many lessons that have helped him become the player he is today.
"Being professional, being prepared, come into work every day to improve and, at the end of the day, all you can control is how you approach it mentally with your attitude, so just try to do it that way," Shields said in summing up those lessons.
He needed all of that to help Milan edge out Bayern to reach the Final Four. Shields dominated the do-or-die Game 5 with a career-high 34 points. He made 5 of 6 three-pointers and 11 of 12 free throws to get a career-best PIR of 41. Shields led Milan in the playoffs with 16.4 points per game.
"The full range of emotions, we are up 2-0 and Bayern really, really fought back, they’re a great club and a great team and I think we’re just happy at the end to come out with a win," Shields reflected on the series. "I think all of us as a team, our mindset was to just win and that's what we came to the game to do and we got it done... I think it was a special night for all of us."
Looking ahead, Shields is now focused on Milan's opponent in the semifinals, FC Barcelona, which had the best record in the EuroLeague regular season.
"We have got to make adjustments and try to do our best to win the game."
"We need to prepare the right way. I think the coaches and everybody is going to put together a great game plan and we are going to try to put our best forward and we have to be better that night," he said. "We have got to make adjustments and try to do our best to win the game."
Although this will be Shields's first time under the bright lights of the Final Four, he knows that he can rely on Milan's many veterans, including a few former champions, to provide the necessary leadership for these moments.
"We have had a lot of guys who have been there, have the experience," Shields explained. "So, them being able to be the pillars of the team and us going to go into it, it’s going to be an emotional week and they are going to be the voices of reason and the guys that we are going to lean on a lot to kinda guide us through the whole process to hopefully end that weekend with two wins."
That is exactly what Messina had in mind when he brought Shields into his veteran mix and what the Milan faithful are hoping for.