Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
Great basketball rivalries are defined by great players. The Lakers and Celtics rivalry has long been defined by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird or Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to some, for instance. In the late 80s, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas turned Pistons-Bulls into a marquee hoops battle. In more recent basketball lore, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have battled for California’s supremacy, laying the groundwork for rivalry match-ups to come.
North Dakota State and Denver may not be a rivalry as epic as Lakers-Celtics or even Lakers-Clippers, but the match-up has been defined by two of its greatest players. Bison senior Vinnie Shahid and Pioneer senior Ade Murkey both hail from the Twin Cities area. While there are a host of players from the area throughout college basketball, Shahid and Murkey have shared a close relationship for most of their basketball careers.
“Me and Ade played AAU together growing up. We played together probably since we were in the fourth grade and so we really built this strong relationship. Fast forward to our last year of AAU, he was my roommate on every trip that we went on,” Shahid said. “We have a really close relationship and that relationship is a lot deeper than basketball.”
The long, arduous trips AAU teams have to take led to Shahid and Murkey becoming quick friends. Murkey and Shahid never faced off in their prep careers, with Shahid attending 4A Hopkins and Murkey attending 2A St. Croix Lutheran. As a senior at Hopkins, Shahid helped lead the school to a 31-1 finish and a state title. Murkey guided St. Croix Lutheran to a 29-3 record and a third-place finish as a senior.
It was not until Shahid arrived at North Dakota State last season where the two would face off with one another. While they carry their friendship with them off the floor, when they step on the floor, it quickly becomes a rivalry. That rivalry will be renewed once again this Saturday as the Bison take on Denver in the first round of the Summit League Tournament. The Bison defeated Denver in their two regular-season match-ups with Shahid scoring 19 and 29 points in those two contests respectively. Murkey has turned in 15 and 24 point outings against the Bison this season.
Because Shahid and the Bison have the advantage in the win-loss column, the senior has not been shy about playfully trash-talking Murkey on social media. However, according to Shahid, it was Murkey who began the social media barbs. “That’s funny that you bring up Instagram because that started way before I even got here,” Shahid said when asked of a recent Instagram post where he tagged Murkey. “I’ll never forget, he posted an Instagram post and he tagged me in it and I wasn’t even here yet.”
The pair’s most recent Instagram exchange came after NDSU’s 82-70 win over Denver on January 25. Shahid scored 29 points and posted a photo of himself doing his now-signature dance following a Denver timeout. He tagged Murkey in the photo leading to a comment from former AAU teammate Amir Coffey, who claimed NDSU always ends up beating Denver. Murkey responded to Coffey with a simple response.
“They be cheating,” Murkey said.
While the social media jabs are all in good fun at the end of the day, Shahid says match-ups with Murkey always elevate his level of play. As an extension of that, Shahid believes that trickles down to both teams. Hence why spectators will always get a competitive match-up between the Bison and Pioneers.
“It definitely elevates our level of play. Inside the lines, he is one of the biggest competitors I have ever seen. Just like me, I don’t want to lose, he doesn’t want to lose and it trickles down to our teams,” Shahid said of playing against Murkey. “It gets competitive with our teammates. Last time, our teammates we’re getting really competitive too. It’ll be a really good match-up and the two teams will be really competing very hard. We’re two really well-coached teams and it takes our level of play to a different level.”
Both Shahid and Murkey are near the top of the Summit League in points per game. The Pioneer senior is second in the conference in scoring, tallying 18.6 points per game on 49 percent shooting. Shahid is not too far behind, averaging 18.1 points per game on 42 percent shooting. Both players are entering Saturday’s contest on a hot streak as well. Murkey has scored 20 or more points in nine of his last 10 games. This includes a monstrous 42 point and 11 rebound night against South Dakota State on February 14. Shahid has yet to score less than 12 points against a Summit League team this season and the Bison have won nine of their last 10 games. Shahid was named to the All-Summit League First Team while Murkey was named to the Second Team.
North Dakota State enters the tournament as the number one seed, making the Pioneers the eight seed. Denver needed a win over Western Illinois in the regular-season finale to get into the tournament. Despite the seeding mismatch, Shahid is taking this game as seriously as any other.
“I tend to look at things as there are no seeds once you get to the tournament. Whatever seed you have, you just have to win the next game regardless. We’re on a neutral site and besides maybe South Dakota State and USD, nobody really has an advantage,” he said. “I take it as whatever team comes to play is the team that is going to win on that night.”
Saturday will be the final collegiate game for either Vinnie Shahid or Ade Murkey. The two Twin Cities natives will lay it all on the line in the win or go home environment that is the Summit League Tournament. Like Bird and Magic or LeBron and Kawhi, there is plenty of mutual respect and love between the two friends. However, when the ball gets tipped on Saturday, all of that falls by the wayside.
For 40 minutes, it’s war.