COLUMBIA — Conchita Nickles had a good feeling about Missouri just from talking to coaches on the phone, but when she saw the look on her son's face during his official visit in May, she knew he'd found a new home.
Keith Shamburger, a redshirt senior who officially became Missouri basketball's newest addition Tuesday after two years at Hawaii, said he'd already chosen MU over Auburn a week before coming to mid-Missouri. But meeting Missouri coaches and touring the athletic facilities locked things up, and afterward he was introduced to Columbia favorites Shakespeare's Pizza and Hot Box Cookies.
"I felt like a kid in a candy store," Shamburger said.
His mom said his demeanor during the visit was different from when he played at Hawaii, where Shamburger transferred following his sophomore year at San Jose State in 2012.
He averaged 9.3 points per game and led the Big West Conference with 166 assists last season, but Nickles said he was never truly comfortable so far from home and his family in Los Angeles.
"He made a commitment, and he knew he had to stick to it, but he never felt at home," Nickles said.
Shamburger will finish his bachelor's degree at Hawaii this summer and enroll in graduate school at Missouri in the fall. When he realized he had enough credits to get his undergraduate degree early, Shamburger decided to seek a better situation.
He'd already gotten a taste of Missouri basketball when the Rainbow Warriors played the Tigers at Kansas City's Sprint Center on November 16 and lost 92-80. When he made the decision to leave Hawaii, friend and former Missouri guard Jabari Brown also told of his positive experience with the coaching and support he received as a Tiger.
Offers from Maryland, Tennessee and Auburn rolled in as well, but Missouri won out. He joins a backcourt emptied by the departure of top scorers Brown and fellow guard Jordan Clarkson, both of whom declared for the NBA draft following the 2013-14 season.
But Eric Cooper, Shamburger's AAU and high school coach, said the Tigers are in good hands. Even as a sixth-grader leading his AAU team to a national championship, Cooper said the Shamburger impressed him with his "old man" style of play.
"He was always better than everyone because of how smart and savvy of a player he was; it wasn't just because of his athleticism," Cooper said. "It was like watching a veteran player."
Cooper also praised his former player's ability to lead his teammates, whether it was to an extra workout, shootaround, or study hall in high school. Shamburger also won the first of his two California state championships as a sophomore at Lutheran High School La Verne with Cooper as his coach.
"He's usually the ringleader of something," Cooper said.
Brandyn Akana, an assistant coach at Hawaii, agreed. He added that while Shamburger wasn't a big scorer for the Rainbow Warriors, his high assist-to-turnover ratio and ability to get to the free-throw line, where he shot 83 percent, made him invaluable late in close games and earned the respect of his teammates.
"On and off the court, the guys looked up to him," Akana said.
Shamburger compares himself to Boston Celtics star Rajon Rondo, who is known for his team-first play and ability to find open teammates.
But running point for new head coach Kim Anderson isn't the only reason Shamburger came to Missouri. He fulfilled a promise to his mother that he would graduate from college this past spring, and at Missouri he plans continue his education and earn his master's degree in positive coaching.
And speaking of coaching, Missouri coaches can be sure that any time Nickles sees an area of Shamburger's game that could use improvement, she'll let him know.
"She has no problem straightening me out," Shamburger said with a chuckle. "After a game, the first thing I see is a text from her if she sees something that could be better."
Shamburger hopes that between his new coaches, teammates and maybe even a few of his mother's tips, the Tigers will make it back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season for the first time since 2008.
He's well aware of their underdog status after losing 70 percent of their scoring with the departure of Brown, Clarkson and senior Earnest Ross, but he remains confident in the team's potential.
"We've got the talent to make some noise," he said.
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