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NCAA Tournament: Against all odds, Shaq and Shunn Buchanan’s teams were both sent to San Diego

Shaq and Shunn Buchanan have never seen each other play at the D-1 level. That will all change in San Diego.

Photo by Murray State Athletics

SAN DIEGO — This year’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show did more than confirm the hopes of bubble teams and give small-conference champions the thrill of seeing their name in the bracket. For two brothers, one in the New Mexico desert and the other in southern Kentucky, it revealed that they could watch each other play Division I ball in person for the first time.

Leroy Buchanan (he goes by Shaq) of Murray State and Shunn Buchanan of New Mexico State will both play their First Round games at Viejas Arena in San Diego. Both are on 12-seeded squads, battling against West Virginia and Clemson, respectively.

“We came up first [on TV] and I cheered, and he popped up after us and I cheered the same way when my team made it,” Shaq said of watching the Selection Show.

Their mother, Stephanie Latimer, was equally thrilled because she no longer had to worry about which of her sons’ games to attend.

“l screamed to the top of my lungs and said, ‘Thank you Lord.’” Latimer said.

Shaq, currently a junior at Murray State, averages 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Shunn, a sophomore, is working to develop into a point guard.

The story of how both brothers got to mid-major universities over a thousand miles away from one another begins in Mississippi, where Latimer dedicated her weeks to working, driving, and traveling to wherever basketball took her two sons.

During AAU ball, she drove 40 minutes each way to get them to practice. When she decided to relocate the family closer to the AAU team, she knew prioritizing basketball would help her sons succeed.

In high school, Shaq and Shunn catapulted Madison Central to the 6A state championship in 2015. Shaq received offers from some D-I programs, but because he did not meet the ACT requirement, he was forced to go the JUCO route. Shunn, on the other hand, didn’t receive as much initial interest, so he followed his brother to Northeast Mississippi Community College.

The brothers shone at Northeast Mississippi. Shaq averaged 14 points per game while Shunn averaged 12.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. Latimer traveled the three and a half hours to nearly every home game to see them play.

Both brothers credit their time in junior college as helping them get to the next level of college basketball.

“Shunn’s a really tough kid,” Northeast Mississippi Community College coach Cord Wright said. “His toughness is something that stood out. Shaq’s a super athlete. He is a wing who developed into a shooter.”

Shaq says that he felt his defense is better, but that Shunn has the advantage when it comes to controlling the game with his ball-handling. Shunn agreed.

Though Shaq currently gets more minutes, they both show promise of being key players for their respective teams. Shaq is currently 54th nationally in steal percentage, averaging 1.6 steals in just 27 minutes of playing time. He served as an X-factor in the Ohio Valley Championship game against Belmont; scoring 11 points and making two threes.

Shunn, on the other hand, plays about 14 minutes per game but still manages a few assists. Though he isn’t a starting guard at the moment, he’ll be tasked with stepping up to fill the void senior Zach Lofton will leave next year.

If it was up to Latimer, Shaq and Shunn would be teammates “forever,” but she always knew they could grow from being apart. While she describes Shunn as being “harder on himself,” she means this in a positive way too, jokingly saying he would never take it easy on Shaq in a game.

Even after moving away from each other, the Buchanan brothers’ bond remains tighter than ever.

“I told them to keep a close connection with each other and reach out to each other,” Latimer said.

Shaq says they do just that. The brothers recently discussed the “chip on their shoulder” because they both play for mid-majors. Still, they’re brothers and they have their differences.

“I’m more of a smiling, joking kid and he doesn’t want to get in the spotlight,” Shaq said.

“I’m the way cooler kid,” Shunn said, refuting his brother’s statement.

The one thing they could agree on? How cool it would be to watch each other advance in the NCAA Tournament.

“I hope we both win together,” Shunn said. “It would the best thing to ever happen.”