‘50-year-old-midget’ leads the reigning state champions

The coach of the defending Class AAA state basketball champions has a unique way to describe his young phenom at point guard.

“He’s a 50-year-old midget,” said Columbia High’s Phil McCrary, referring to Tahj Shamsid-Deen. “It speaks to his maturity level. He thinks way beyond his age.”

The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Shamsid-Deen is considered one of the state’s top sophomores, averaging 18 points, nine assists and three steals for Columbia, which is 11-1 and leaves Wednesday for the Alaska Airlines Shootout for five days.

Columbia High coach Phil McCrary (center in black shirt) gives instructions to his "50-year-old-midget" aka PG Tahj Shamsid-Deen (AJC Photo)

Columbia High coach Phil McCrary (center in black shirt) gives instructions to his "50-year-old-midget" aka PG Tahj Shamsid-Deen (AJC Photo)

“It’s a compliment, not at all meant in a derogatory way. It’s just that most kids his age make simple and minor mistakes on the floor. It’s rare for Tahj because he’s more mature than most of the point guards he plays against.

“How many 15-year-olds do you know that are constantly looking up at the clock, knowing the situation they are in? How many always know where to go with the basketball? Know when to shoot? When to slow it down? And when to take over a game?

“All that stuff, Tahj has already learned. That’s why I call him a ‘50-year-old midget’ because his knowledge is way beyond his age.”

What does Shamsid-Deen think of the uncanny description? “It makes me smile and laugh,” he said. “I know exactly what he means. Coach means I’m wise beyond my years with how I see the game. I guess I’m smarter than I’m supposed to be at my age.”

Columbia is depending heavily this season on Shamsid-Deen, who is the only returning starter from last year’s state championship squad. The little guy has responded in a big way to the pressures, helping Columbia win the Arby’s Classic over the holidays with a game-high 24 points in the championship game.

Columbia’s only loss was at the buzzer to Miller Grove, which is ranked No. 4 in the nation by USA Today. Shamsid-Deen blistered Miller Grove’s highly respected defense for 24 points in front of college scouts in attendance to watch other players.

“He’s like a general out there,” Miller Grove coach Sharman White said. “He definitely gives them their drive. He steers everything that Columbia does. He’s so young, but such in command. He has a great feel for the game and doesn’t try to do more than his team needs him to do.”

When asked to explain Shamsid-Deen’s importance to the team, McCrary said, “It would be like trying to fly an airplane without the pilot. That’s how important Tahj is to our team.”

Connecticut, Florida and Memphis are among the teams that have shown early interest in Shamsid-Dean, who had a growth spurt of three inches since last season. The point guard is just as sensational in the classroom, posting a qualifying SAT score for college while in the seventh grade. He has nearly a 4.0 GPA in high school and is a finalist for the Governor’s Cup in math.

Shamsid-Deen is a second-year starter and has high hopes for Columbia’s second state title in a row. The DeKalb program doesn’t have the size or experience of last season, but may be quicker, faster and a little deeper on the bench.

“Columbia is right up there with the top overall teams in the state,” White said. “They don’t have as many big-name stars as last year, but they can play. This year’s group is more of a blue-collar team that will do all the little things to grind it out and wear you down to win.”

18 comments Add your comment


January 12th, 2011
3:17 pm

A GREAT, Positive story. Thank you. Stay Blessed Young Man!!!


January 12th, 2011
3:45 pm

A wonderfully positive article on a young man that I expect Great things from for the re3st of his life,

Howard L

January 12th, 2011
4:00 pm

Coach McCrary, keep up the good work. Your story of what you have done the young men, including a couple of my nephews, that have come through your program is commendable.


January 12th, 2011
4:29 pm

I’m so happy to read a positive acticle. As a Columbia Alum I’m proud of this young man and I wish the best for him in the future.


January 12th, 2011
5:02 pm

yeah and all the recruits from other schools. one of their starters transferred from another school and he didn’t move. his parents just rented an apartment in the area. just to play basketball. welcome to the crookedness that is atlanta basketball.


January 12th, 2011
5:22 pm

coach, I guessed you missed the article by the AJC that had all the transfers for the top teams in the state. I’m not saying it’s right but from here on out it’s going to be hard to win without those transfers.


January 12th, 2011
5:39 pm

Great story…hope he grows a few more inches so the big time D-1 schools will give him the attention it appears he deserves.


January 12th, 2011
5:41 pm

I am the coach that took the heat about transfers. Thee are several people name coach on here. So eagle, i am coach 1. Glad to see a true student athlete

Milton dad

January 12th, 2011
6:19 pm

great story. I wish this kid well.

Dekalb Fan 93'

January 12th, 2011
10:54 pm

I am so glad to see the progression of Tahj as a basketball player and more importantly as a student. McCrary’s program is highly respected as he continues to put great student athletes into college. He currently has over 8 players playing D-1 basketball (Leslie & Price-at UGA, Storrs at GT, Darrius Morrow at East Carolina, Jershon Cobb at Northwestern, Chris Grier & Kenny Mitchell at Charleston Southern, Amu Saka at Furman, and please help me with others). His players are able to contribute to their program immediately. His players are great kids (ask admininstration at Columbia) and I will continue to support his program. His kids are well disciplined and on track to graduate from college. Coach McCrary…keep up the good work!

Great Story on Tahj

January 12th, 2011
11:04 pm

Tahj is a great student. He had a conversation with some of my students two years ago about dedication. They asked him how does he work so hard on basketball and his grades. His reply to them was .. “what do you guys do on a Friday or Saturday night (their response was to play video games and hanging out with friends) and his response was “I watch tapes of my games, work on my dribbling and shooting, and complete upcoming assignments for class.” I along with my players were very impressed as he told them that his passions are his books and basketball (especially coming from a 13 year old kid). I am rooting for the kid because he represents the definitioin of a true student athlete. Keep up the good work Tahj!


January 13th, 2011
9:42 am

What a great positive article and blog for that matter, except for the bitter comments of coach, so negative….also please get your facts straight before making the comment you just made…Good Luck Tahj, you are truly a student athlete!


January 13th, 2011
9:43 am

Great story again. I kee reading it over and over. His parents should be applauded.


January 13th, 2011
1:00 pm

i know the facts are straight on the starter. i will not put his name on here. the coach at miller grove tried to steal him as well.

George robinson

January 13th, 2011
2:58 pm

Great story from a great program.Their are a lot of stories out their like that.Great parents also that were it all begins


January 14th, 2011
1:36 pm

Yes, there are alot of stories out there like this and more of these stories need to be reported. Lets begin focusing on the positive aspects of sports and what our kids are doing and accomplishing instead of whining and crying about something that can’t or won’t change at this time.


January 14th, 2011
2:21 pm

Great positive story! As an Alum of Columbia people like to drag the school’s name in dirt look beyond the walls, you would really know that it is a good school. Not to mention it’s magnet program of math and science. So to coach like dst3 said get you facts straight and just give credit when it is due. Not everything has to be a negative situation. Way to GO EAGLES!!

Atlanta Knicks

January 14th, 2011
9:38 pm

Another Atlanta Knick product making waves
He surely represents a student athlete we are
Very proud of you Tahj keep up good work