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2010-11 Times All-Area Boys Player of the Year: Shunquez Stephens
Spartans senior guided West Hall all season
West Hall High standout Shunquez Stephens is The Times boys high school basketball Player of the Year. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

It's hard to imagine Shunquez Stephens never putting on a basketball jersey again.

The thought of that happening makes his coach Warren Sellers "sick to his stomach" because he knows how special a player Stephens is, and that players like him "don't come around too often."

Stephens also doesn't like to think about never playing basketball again, but in a few months, he'll be off to Alabama State University on a football scholarship, which means his days of impressing fans and coaches with his versatility on the basketball court might be over.

If they are, he certainly saved his best season for last.

Stephens finished his senior season averaging 18.1 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals, and he became the West Hall High's all-time leading scorer (with more than 1,500 points) and all-time rebound leader (with more than 900). Because of those accomplishments, Stephens has been named The Times' Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the second straight season.

"I think my desire to keep playing has increased after this year," said Stephens, who was recruited to play basketball by South Carolina-Upstate and Jacksonville University. "I was really satisfied with how I played and how we played."

One thing he wasn't satisfied with is how the season ended.

With four seniors - Stephens, Jarquise Young, Dre Pou and William Stroup - starting, the Spartans were ranked in the top five of the Class AAA rankings for the majority of the season. Their journey to a state title suffered a crushing blow when it lost at the buzzer to Franklin County in the Region 8-AAA championship game that gave them a first-round home game, but also placed them in the same bracket as eventual state champion Columbia.

"It was a dagger to our goal of reaching the state finals," Stephens said. "Just look at Franklin County; they made it to the final four."

The second-round loss to Columbia ended West Hall's dream of playing for a state championship, but looking back, it didn't diminish the amount of success Stephens and the rest of the Spartans have had throughout the past four years.

After finishing two games over .500 his freshman year, the Spartans reached the second round of the Class AAA playoffs in three straight years and won the program's first Lanierland title during Stephens' sophomore year.

"That's the memory I'm going to cherish the most," said Stephens, who stated he'll miss playing with his teammates, especially the seniors, who, in his eyes, all have a chance to play at the next level. "That was a big part of the West Hall program."

So too was Stephens, whose numbers would have been exponentially higher had it not been for a couple football injuries that kept him out of several games at the beginning of the past two basketball seasons.

"Your knees hurt, your back hurts, but you have to fight through that," he said. "It was a struggle."

Early on his career, Stephens also struggled with staying in shape, and it wasn't until after a second-round loss to Columbia during his sophomore year that he realized he needed to focus on his conditioning.

"I felt I had to get in shape to be a player," Stephens said. "I dedicated myself to the gym during my junior year, and it increased this year."

That extra time in the weight room only added to Stephens' legacy at West Hall.

"I don't know if you can replace him," Sellers said. "But even though he's going to be moving on, he provided a lot of leadership that will linger on."

Stephens doesn't think what he did was that special, and that it won't be too long until someone fills his shoes.

"I worked pretty hard, but if someone is dedicated and willing to do anything to win games, there's going to be someone just as good as me," Stephens said. "Work ethic is what leads to success."

Who will be the next great Spartan is anyone's guess, but Stephens thinks it might be someone living under the same roof with a familiar last name. He of course is referring to his younger brother Jamaad, who just finished his sophomore season.

"I've told him he's going to have to pick up his game and not be lazy," Stephens said. "Either him or any of the other players coming up have what it takes to be great, it just takes hard work."

So will his brother be better?

"That's a possibility," Stephens said. "I never dunked in high school, and he already has three, so there's a good chance he's better than me."

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