Courtesy of NJIT Athletics
Education and basketball have taken Vlad Shustov a long way from his Russian hometown in Tomsk, Siberia to NJIT and Newark. Now he and the Highlanders hope his trek leads to more success in his new American home for the next four years of studies and basketball.
Shustov, a 19-year old freshman who checks in at 6-foot-10 and 225 pounds, didn’t actually come directly to NJIT from Tomsk, a city of more than half a million people located about 1,800 air miles east of Moscow (which more than 4,600 air miles east of Newark). Before college, he lived in the Atlantic City, NJ, area for a couple of years and is a 2013 graduate of Absegami High School in Galloway, NJ. And before that, he studied and played ball near Moscow.
An independent scouting report on hoopgroup.com described him as “very fluid for his size and runs the floor very well.” And, like many European trained big men, Shustov has a well-developed ability to shoot from the outside. Added the hoopgroup.com report: “(he is) a legitimate catch-and-shoot threat from the outside.” Another scouting web site called him an “intriguing prospect…with oodles of upside if he works hard.”
In his native Russia, he competed in both national and international competition in the “School of Olympic Reserve” based in the Moscow region.
“Vlad has a lot of talent and skill,” said NJIT coach Jim Engles, who welcomes Shustov as one of six freshmen on this year’s Highlanders. “He’s a European-type player who can shoot, pass and dribble extremely well. He’ll have to adjust to the physicality of playing Division I basketball, especially for big men, but he’ll learn from experience and he has the skills to be a good player.”
NJIT, which won 16 games, including the 2012-13 Great West Conference regular season championship in the GWC’s final year of existence, is slated to open the 2013-14 season in New Orleans at Tulane on November 8, with the home opener scheduled for November 23 against long-time opponent Lafayette.
Versatile men’s basketball swingman Rob Ukawuba, one of New Jersey’s top players a year ago at East Brunswick High School, has brought his game to NJIT, where he is one of six freshmen on the 2013-14 Highlanders roster.
Noted for his toughness and athleticism, Ukawuba averaged 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.9 steals a game for East Brunswick, which posted a 26-4 record in 2012-13. He had nine games with 20 or more points and reached double-figure scoring in 29 of the 30 games. He had seven double-figure rebound games. According the MyCentralJersey.com, the website of several newspapers, he became East Brunswick’s all-time leading scorer with 1,311 career points.
Ukawuba reaped numerous honors for leading veteran coach Bo Henning’s East Brunswick’s Central Jersey Group 4 champions. The Star-Ledger of Newark named Rob third-team All-State for all groups, making him one of New Jersey’s top 15 high school players in the eyes of the state’s largest newspaper. In addition, the The Star-Ledger also named him first-team All-State in Group 4 (largest public schools); second-team All-State among senior players; and first-team All-Middlesex County. His local daily paper, the Home News Tribune, which is part of MyCentralJersey.com, selected Ukawuba for its All-Area first team.
Born in New Brunswick, NJ, to parents who immigrated to the United States from Nigeria before he was born, Rob is a chiseled 6-foot-3, 210 pounder who followed his older brother into basketball. He spent the early part of his high school career playing around the basket, but has expanded his game to hone his perimeter skills and he made 25 3-point baskets as a senior, while also notching 66 assists.
“Rob is a tough-natured, tough-minded small forward who will be able to play more than one position, like a lot of the guys we’ve had,” said NJIT Jim Engles. “He can score inside and rebound against bigger players and his perimeter game continues to get better. He always defended the other team’s best player (in high school). He’s a winner.”
To appreciate Ukawuba’s mental and physical toughness, look at his work playing twice last season against perennial power St. Joseph’s of Metuchen and its 7-foot-1 center Karl Towns, who is committed to Kentucky and is universally ranked among the Top 5 players in the Class of 2014 nationally. Ukawuba had 17 points and 6 rebounds in a regular win for East Brunswick over St. Joe’s and 20 points and 7 rebounds in a 66-63 double overtime loss in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament final.