Shad Dabney stepped to the free throw line late in the fourth quarter of Riverside Military Academy’s Friday night game against Lakeview Academy. The Eagles were leading in one of biggest games in years for the program. Dabney’s teammates and Riverside Military supporters were depending on him to hit his shots. The Lions home crowd was cheering desperately for the opposite.
So what was going through Dabney’s head through all the commotion?
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing is going through my mind. (Assistant coach Trevor Bishop) always tells me, ‘Don’t think about it. Just go up there and shoot it.’”
So that’s exactly what Dabney did. He made it, too. Then he hit four more. Dabney went 5 of 6 from the charity stripe late, the last scoring he would do in a 28-point performance that led the Eagles to a 75-66 road victory over Lakeview Academy, good enough for him to be named this week’s Times Athlete of the Week.
Dabney said his mom has always wanted him to be an 80 percent shooter from the free throw line, so he often finishes off practice by shooting until he makes “10 or 15 in a row.” The extra effort to improve the small parts of his game is just one component of the “winning attitude” that Riverside Military coach Marvin Latham said Dabney has had since he switched schools from Gainesville following his freshman year.
“Every game, every minute he’s on the floor, it’s about competing and winning,” Latham said. “That’s contagious, man. His ability to compete every minute he’s on the floor is contagious for us. It’s helped us a lot.”
Dabney brings the same fiery competitiveness to every game, but Latham said he plays his best basketball in the biggest moments.
“He loves the big games,” Latham said. “And those kids that play at a high level love the big games. They love the big crowds. They love the pressure. They embrace it. That’s what he does. He embraces the moment, and that’s all it is.”
Dabney has enjoyed a major boost in playing time since coming to Riverside Military from Gainesville. He said his experience as a minor piece of an extremely talented Red Elephant squad a season ago has prepared him for his more featured role with the Eagles.
He also said Riverside Military’s coaching staff has been integral in preparing him to be a centerpiece of the team.
“My coaches have been hard on me since the day I walked into the gym,” Dabney said. “Coach Latham told me the first day I got here that he was going to push me. He knows that I might not like him at times, but everything he does is for the best for us. He yells at us. He tells us the truth. He tells us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear. It’s gotten us far so far. We learn from him. We love him. And we just keep fighting with him to continue to win.”
All that came to a head Friday when Dabney exploded for perhaps his biggest game of the year to take down Lakeview Academy — the No. 6 ranked team in Class A-Private, according to Score Atlanta.
It was a big moment for the Eagles. A big moment for Dabney himself. But the way the team is playing, there will be plenty more before the season is done.
Dabney is going to enjoy every minute of it.
“I dreamed of things like this,” he said. “It was just amazing to see what I could do in a big time game and what my team could do in a big time game. It’s just given us a great feel for this playoff run we’re trying to make.”