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By Marta Lawrence
Last season, junior guard Jay Shunnar averaged 5.6 points in 20 starts for Toledo’s basketball team. As the only returning senior, Shunnar was poised to be a big contributor and a team leader in his final season.
The engineering major had other plans.
Jay Shunnar is giving up his senior basketball season at Toledo to pursue a prestigious engineering degree from Michigan.
After a series of changes at Toledo, Shunnar decided to apply to Michigan’s college of engineering—the sixth-ranked school of engineering in the country, according to the U.S. News and World Report. Shunnar, an Ann Arbor, Mich., native, was accepted and made the difficult choice to hang up his uniform, transfer to Michigan and concentrate full time on the only stats that matter to his future: his GPA.
“As great as playing basketball at Toledo was, and giving up my senior year killed me, a Michigan degree is really hard to say goodbye to—especially their engineering program,” Shunnar said. Although Shunnar, a walk-on at Toledo, said he would love to continue his student-athlete experience at Michigan, he said walking on at a Big Ten school would be a long shot.
Knowing he would leave his Division I basketball career behind if he left Toledo made the decision even tougher for Shunnar. He and his parents sought the counsel of the Toledo coaches, Shunnar’s high school coach and many others.
“Everyone was involved in this process,” said Shunnar’s high school coach Waleed Samaha, head men’s basketball coach at Huron High school in Ann Arbor. “The best decision for Jay was made and ultimately that’s what it comes down to. For him and his future, the best decision was to go to Michigan and get his degree in engineering and continue his education at U of M.”
Shunnar struggled with the decision but ultimately placed more emphasis on his academic future.
“He thought through it a lot, but I think if you asked him today, I think he is still 50/50 on it. Most of the time, I think he wants to come back and play, but he realizes that he’s doing a really good thing for his future,” said Brad Konerman a close friend of Shunnar’s and the director of operations for men’s basketball at Toledo.
“Once he was able to come to terms with the big picture, it made the decision clearer for him,” Samaha said.
While Shunnar said his education at Toledo was top-notch, the professional contacts he’s made at Michigan have made it easier to find and be accepted to high-level internships.
“I could go to Toledo, and I could have gotten a bio engineering degree and it would have been from a great bio engineering program, but I went to a career fair here and I got three interviews and two second interviews on the first day,” he said.
Shunnar hasn’t left basketball completely, however. This season he was offered a job by a former Huron coach to join his squad at Ann Arbor’s Skyline High School—a Huron rival—as a varsity assistant.
“I think he’s a great role model for the kids he’s coaching because most people wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to be a Division I player to go pursue a non-basketball experience,” said Samaha. “So, what he’s showing the kids he’s coaching is that you always put academics first and he’s living by example.”
Despite Shunnar’s insider knowledge of Huron’s plays, Skyline lost when the two schools met earlier this season. Nevertheless, Samaha said seeing his former player on the sideline made him proud.
Shunnar was a varsity assistant coach this year at a high school in Ann Arbor and plans to continue in the profession.
“It was entertaining looking down the bench when they would make a play…we’d kind of exchange looks and he was calling out a lot of our sets and calling out a lot of our calls,” Samaha said with a laugh.
Shunnar said he draws on his Toledo experience to help his team both on and off the court. A few of his players will go on to the next level, and Shunnar said he tries to instill in them the importance of the intangibles like attitude and academics.
Shunnar credits his grades and work ethic for allowing him the opportunity to play at the Division I level. He shares these lessons with his kids.
“My favorite part of the Jay Shunnar story is that what he did at Toledo, no one does anymore,” Konerman said. “No one goes to a Division I basketball institution, tries out for a team, actually makes the team then not only becomes a player, but a key contributor.
“If you have the grades, it will set you apart,” he said. “Because sometimes you walk into the room and you’re not the quickest or the strongest.
“I got the opportunity because of my grades and the little things in the background,” said Shunnar. Now as a coach he said he tells his guys “how much all the little things matter.”
“The one thing about Jay is that he appreciates every opportunity, and I think he understood that he was very blessed and very fortunate to have the opportunity to play at a Division I school. At the same time, I think it gave him the idea that he wanted to coach,” said Konerman.
For his part, Shunnar plans to graduate from Michigan next year and may apply for a waiver to play his final year of eligibility in graduate school. After graduate school, Shunnar plans to continue coaching.
“Coaching is what I want to do with my future. Engineering is great, basketball is awesome, but the ideal, ultimate goal is coaching,” he said.