Little Rock Basketball's Lis Shoshi Climbs to the Top

Lis Shoshi giving an interviewLITTLE ROCK – To say Lis Shoshi was an unknown when he arrived at Howard College in 2013 would be an understatement.

"None of us had ever seen anything from him other than video," Howard College head coach Scott Raines said. "He looked like this long, lanky kid who was extremely skilled playing against a bunch of munchkins – which is what you run into a lot of the time with international kids. You have no idea how to judge the competition they're playing against."

Nineteen years old and having played in just six organized basketball games in his life, the 6-11 Shoshi, coming from Peje, Kosovo, was recruited almost entirely on the strength of a highlight video he put together with the help of his father.

"He gets off the plane and he's skinnier than what we ever imagined, even on video," Raines said. "But you could quickly tell within the first couple weeks that he was this great package of size with some guard skill to him. We were pleasantly surprised."

Lis ShoshiGrowing up in Kosovo, Shoshi's introduction to basketball came at age five. His interest was piqued after watching his older cousins play on a concrete court behind their house, and it wasn't long before he started to play on the same court with his own friends. Shoshi said he can remember staying up with his older brother to watch NBA games, which might start as late as 3 a.m. in Kosovo.

"My cousins would play (at the court behind our home), because we lived in the same house, and I started getting interested," Shoshi said. "They would bring their friends up and I would just watch them play."

It's important to note the differences in youth basketball in Kosovo compared the United States. The game itself is popular, but there are very few youth teams and no middle school, junior high or high school teams. Organized versions of the sport are near impossible to find before late high school, when U-16 and U-18 teams begin to take shape.

With the absence of traditional youth leagues, Shoshi's main exposure to basketball came through practices run by local coaches. Formatted similar to traditional American summer basketball camps, the practices consist of basic dribbling, shooting and defensive drills for roughly an hour to 90 minutes, two or three times per week. The practices are generally run by a couple local coaches and would include 40-50 kids. Looking back, Shoshi added with a laugh, they might be described as chaotic.

Shoshi started attending practices around age 11. It was through them that he met two of his most important basketball influences. The first was Esat Muharemi, a local coach he worked with from age 12 until leaving for Howard College. The second was Korab Imani, an older friend who also grew up in Peje and went on to play college basketball at Oakland and Tiffin University.

"You've got a chance to play in America," Shoshi recalls Imani telling him after his first season of college basketball, truly putting the idea in his head.

It was around the same time that Shoshi earned a spot on a local U-18 team as a 17-year-old. He played just three games before knee soreness – brought on by growth spurts – ended his season. A little over a year later that he began playing again, this time for a city team.

Imani suggested making a highlight video to help him get recruited. Shoshi's father's friend owned a camera that they used to record his city team games – again, just three – which they turned into a highlight video and mailed to schools in the United States.

Once he arrived at Howard, the biggest issue Shoshi faced wasn't adjusting to the speed of the game or learning organized defense or plays, it was his conditioning.

"It was horrible. I'm like a legend over there. My (conditioning) was horrible. You could see that I could play a little bit, but it took me a while. Basketball here is faster and I was just out of shape, completely."

He developed quad strains the first week of practice as a result of poor conditioning and battled shin splints his entire freshman season.

"Absolutely," Raines said when asked if he remembers Shoshi's conditioning struggles. "That fall, he thinks he's dying every day. All international guys think pickup is like practice. But we tell them that once we start practicing, you're going to understand what hard is. Most international kids are used to working out a couple days a week, and here you're sometimes going seven days a week. That was a big adjustment for him."

But it didn't take long for Shoshi to acclimate to his new surroundings. After starting the season on the bench, he moved into the starting five by late November. In fact, Shoshi started 21 of the final 23 games to close the season.

"We started scrimmaging in early October, and we had five of what we'd call post guys his freshman year," Raines said. "And in our scrimmages and in our opening games in November, I think he was fifth of five getting off the bench. By our first conference game of that year, we were starting him. That transformation he made over a six or eight-week period was remarkable."

Shoshi followed his first season of organized basketball with his first offseason of organized improvement. Working heavily with then roommate and current Indiana State forward Niels Bunschoten, Shoshi saw first-hand what it meant to work on his game. Bunschoten, a 6-9 forward who shot 45.5 percent from 3-point range for Howard as a sophomore, provided Shoshi with a template for improving his offensive game.

"We would just go shoot every night," Shoshi said. "We were like the gym rats. I got the habit from him of going to the gym all the time."

Like most young players, Shoshi's personal time in the gym to that point was unstructured. It wasn't until working with Bunschoten that he learned how to get the most out of his practice time – make 500 jumpers, make free throws, spend an hour working on back-to-the-basket moves, etc.

"My shot got much better," Shoshi said. "My shot always looked good, but I was not always a maker. (Bunschoten) was a really, really good shooter, and after shooting for a year with him I became better."

The offseason work was evident in year two. Shoshi nearly averaged a double-double (9.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game) and shot 51.5 percent from the field. He posted nine double-doubles while adding 15 double-figure rebounding games.

As Shoshi's conditioning improved, so did his defensive presence. He blocked 51 shots and was named the Western Junior College Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year at season's end. Howard finished the 2014-15 season with a 24-8 overall record and posted a 13-3 record in conference play.

"He's grown so much toughness-wise and what he can handle from a physical and mental standpoint," Raines said. "I'm telling you right now, and coach Beard knows it, his best basketball is in front of him … He's on the verge of unleashing this unbelievable skill package over the next few years."

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