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Reno Earls, a record-setting basketball player and trailblazer at Lakeview Academy in the 1990s, dies at 44
Earls topped 2,000 career points for the Lions in 1995
Reno Earls
Reno Earls

No matter who talks about Reno Earls, they all will remember him as a loyal person. 

He left a lasting impression on friends.

“He is the most loyal person I’ve ever met,” his friend Deshaun Cantrell said. “He is the only friend, I ever had, where I never had to apologize to or one who had to apologize to me. He’s been the same since I can remember. We’ve been around each other our entire life.”

Earls was also a trailblazer, as one of the first black players at Lakeview Academy. 

In basketball, Earls was one of the best in Hall County in the 1990s. He finished his career with the Lions in 1995 with a school-record 2,041 points.

On Jan. 11, Earls died, due to health complications and a battle with COVID-19. He was 44. 

The news of his passing hurt many in Hall County, especially those who knew him best. He was a positive light to many in the community, who was always just himself.

“Nothing ever changed about him,” Cantrell said. “Not his demeanor. Nothing. You rarely saw him out of character.”

Cantrell and Earls were childhood friends since they started competing in youth football in Gainesville. 

Their friendship was always genuine, despite always competing against one another. They knew how to separate the two and it never came between their friendship.

This is the level of loyalty Earls demonstrated to many. He was a friend first and foremost, who supported and cheered for their success.

Former East Hall High boys coach Joe Dix reflected on this most recently.

The two met when Earls was in high school and Dix was a college basketball player at the University of North Georgia. 

Dix and friends came into Gainesville looking for competitive pick-up games at the Family Life Center of First Baptist Church. 

Every time they were there, Earls was in the gym playing. 

Earls held his own against the college guys. Dix also earned a unique friendship with the Lakeview Academy product.

“He was a really good player,” Dix said. “He was big and strong and could handle the ball well as a point guard. It was obvious he could play.”

After playing against Earls, the North Georgia coaching staff asked Dix if there was a chance they could recruit Earls. Dix summed it pretty simple, “Nah, we’re not going to be able to get him.”

Getting Earls to the Dahlonega campus would be difficult.

He was an outstanding player at for the Lions and was putting up numbers to back up interest from Division-I programs. Earls was the focal point to the Lions basketball team from 1992-95. 

He was able to score at will, but was always looking to make his teammates better.

One game in particular describes Earls’ clutch skillset in a nutshell. 

For three quarters, against Riverside Military Academy, he facilitated the teams needs. 

Then with the Lions trailing by eight points, Earls took over. 

He scored 34 of his school-record 48 points in the fourth quarter and two overtime periods for an 87-83 victory. 

Performances like that are the reason Earls was dubbed the ‘Lion King.’

After high school, Earls landed at The Citadel, before coming back to finish his playing career at DeKalb College. 

“He tried to defer (attention),” said Ronnie Vandiver, who coached Earls at Lakeview Academy. “He never shied away from taking over, if he felt that’s what he needed to do. He was not a selfish player by any stretch of the imagination. I always felt his biggest attribute is that he wanted everyone else involved.”

Vandiver described Earls as a student-athlete who everyone would gravitate to on the court and in the hallways. 

Earls interacted with students in the lower and upper school, equally. 

Vandiver called him a unique individual who was smart, talented, caring and loyal.

“You put that combination together and you have and outstanding young man, who was very talented,” Vandiver said.

Dix added, “He is probably the best player to ever play at Lakeview, I’m sure. He’s probably one of the best ones to come out of Hall County.”

The two remained friends for years. 

When Earls returned to Hall County, after college, he was always in the stands supporting the East Hall boys basketball teams led by Dix. 

Reno’s son, Imre, attended Vikings camps from the age of 5 and played for Dix as a freshman, before the former Vikings coach took over at Collins Hill a few years ago.

When Dix took the Eagles’ job, Earls sent him a congratulatory text wishing him the best of luck. Earls attend games at Collins Hill as recently as last basketball season to support Dix.

His commitment to friends and family made Earls a unique person.

So unique, how he ended up at Lakeview Academy surprised some of his closest friends.

Earls grew up in the East Hall community, playing multiple sports against the likes of Cantrell and current Holy Innocents’ boys basketball coach Mario Mays. 

The latter two were part of the Gainesville High feeder system but the trio became friends. 

Mays recalls a time, as youngsters, walking from Fair Street Park when a person approached them about one day attending Lakeview Academy. 

They looked at this stranger funny and laughed it off because they were fans of East Hall and Gainesville, respectfully. 

Attending private school was not an option, so they thought.

When it was time to attend high school, Mays and Cantrell went to Gainesville where both flourished. 

Earls, instead of attending East Hall, was enrolled into Lakeview Academy.

“This was a surprise to all of us,” Mays said. “Nobody from our community ever went there. To see Reno go, and watching him excel in the manner that he did, it was great.”

Mays worked at Lakeview Academy as a teacher and an assistant coach several years later. 

This is when his level of respect for Earls grew even larger. 

Mays called Earls to talk about the challenges as a young black athlete. 

He was the first one from their community to attend the Gainesville private school, at the time. 

“Him being so young and stepping out on faith to attend school there, while doing what he did, is courageous,” Mays said. “He went in there and broke records and carried his weight in the classroom. I admire him for being the trailblazer for our community.”

Mays believes Earls success at the school helped provide him the opportunity to start his coaching career in the Lions’ community.

The things Earls was doing at Lakeview on the hardwood had some of his friends thinking they should’ve also enrolled at Lakeview Academy. 

Mays believes Earls put the Lions basketball program on the map. 

He knows his friend dealt with a lot of pressure, just being different. 

Earls never folded or wavered from the challenges. 

He was going to see it through to the end.

“It was inspiring to us to see him be successful,” Mays said. “I was just glad to see what he had done.”

Earls is survived by his children, Takeda, Imari, Imani, Indyah, and Imre; parents, Floyd and Velma Earls; sisters, Vicki Earls, Michelle Chatman, and Lisa Ware; brother, James Singleton; grandchildren, Junior, Noelle, Brooklyn, Nassir, Winter, and Melody; niece, Janay; nephews, Riyadh and Chaz. 

He cared about his family and community, which is the example left behind some look to emulate in their own life.

“It is a goal I am still setting for myself is to be a better father,” Cantrell said. “He was the best father. I remember him making the adjustment of getting into parenthood and taking that on with no distractions.”

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