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Cantrell steps out of the shadows to become a leader for Gainesville
Red Elephants forward leads team in scoring at 19.5 points a game
Gainesville High’s Shaquan Cantrell takes the ball into the lane during the Red Elephants game with East Hall in earlier this season at the Gainesville High gymnasium. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Gainesville boys basketball coach Todd Cottrell doesn't think twice if he turns the corner into the school's parking lot early in the morning and sees his junior small forward Shaquan Cantrell waiting patiently to get in the door to the gym.

It doesn't matter what time of year it is, basketball is the top priority of this year's Lanierland Most Valuable Player and the Red Elephants' (11-5, 5-1 Region 8B-AAA) leading scorer at 19.5 points a game.

"When I get here at 7:30 in the morning, he's already here," Cottrell said. "In fact, I don't think he missed a single day last summer coming in and shooting."

As Cantrell entered his junior year of high school, Cottrell noticed him blossom into a complete player. The athletic ability was already apparent as he played considerable varsity minutes as a freshman and started as a sophomore.

However, Cantrell has paired that with a work ethic, carrying the mindset that no one is going to work harder to get better.

Not only is Cantrell shooting a shade over 50 percent from the floor, but he's also improved in every other aspect of his game, according to the Red Elephants' coach.

The first thing fans may notice is his vertical and an ability to consistently finish above the rim with his lean 6-foot-4 frame.

He's also improved drastically on defense, passing, handling the ball in transition and confidence that he can go toe-to-toe guarding other big men in Region 8-AAA.

"There's not many players that can do what he does," Cottrell said. "And what he does is make the other guys around him better."

Cantrell decided in eighth grade that he wanted to take basketball seriously with dreams of playing in college and eventually the NBA.

And there's no substitute for hard work. Just like a weightlifter, he mixes things up with his individual practice time on the court.

One day he may count off 500 jump shots, while the next, he may focus completely on ball-handling drills.

"The basketball court is like home to me," said Cantrell, who dreams of playing at the University of Connecticut. "I started playing basketball when I was 7 and just want to keep getting better and better."

Even though Cantrell doesn't have a commanding voice, his presence and example are enough to keep his teammates in line.

"I look up to Shaquan," Gainesville junior shooting guard Fred Payne said. "He's like the X-factor on the team.
"Between Shaquan and Deshaun (Watson), they set a great example for the team."

Cottrell adds that Cantrell, a team captain, is just as valuable for his rebounds, assists and pass deflections as shooting the ball.

According to the coach, Cantrell's performance Tuesday (nine points, seven rebounds and three assists in a win against Johnson) was just as valuable as his 21-point effort in the 92-62 win to clinch the Lanierland championship against East Hall last month.

Even though Cantrell is primarily shooting the ball from 15 feet and in, he's also extended his range and can knock down a 3-pointer, too.

"Shaquan is very versatile, very athletic and has good skills along the perimeter," Cottrell said. "He's a hard matchup for the guys that's trying to guard him."

Aiding Cantrell in his development is the fact that he knows he doesn't have to shoulder all the responsibility scoring.

The sophomore Watson is averaging 12 points a night, and senior guard Lance White averages 10 points and four assists per game.

"With our guys, any one of them is bound to explode scoring on any given night," Cottrell said. "It can change from game to game."

The Red Elephants, who are currently in second place behind Walnut Grove (5-0 Region 8-AAA South) in the subregion, will visit Christ School in Asheville, N.C., on Friday, followed by a subregion game on Saturday against West Hall in Oakwood.


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