2011-12 Boys basketball player of the year

Cavs star Shelton coming out of his shell

by Aaron Garcia

Cuthbertson sophomore guard Shelton Mitchell averaged 23.4 points per contest while leading the Cavs to the Class 2A title game. Aaron Garcia/UCW photo

Although he’s just a sophomore, Shelton Mitchell already boasts the kind of basketball resume that most players spend four years striving to achieve. He’s played on, and starred for, high-level AAU teams and has made lasting impressions at national recruiting events. The Cuthbertson guard already holds scholarship offers from the Charlotte 49ers, Missouri, Wake Forest and South Carolina, and Mississippi State extended an offer on April 2.

This season Mitchell was the top player for the county’s top team, as he averaged 23.4 points per game while adding 4.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 steals for the Cavs, who finished the season 31-2. In the postseason, Mitchell averaged 22.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while leading the Cavs to an average margin of victory of 26 points entering the state title game.

But even that seasoning couldn’t prepare him for the sight of N.C. State University’s Reynolds Coliseum as the Cavs’ bus pulled up for the Class 2A state title game in March.

“Once we got there, that’s when the reality (set in that), ‘OK, I’m actually about to play in the state championship game as a sophomore,’” Mitchell said.

The championship appearance, though capped by a 58-55 loss to powerhouse Kinston, not only offered a glimpse into what the immediate future might hold for Mitchell and his teammates but also helped the Cavs star cement his title as Union County Weekly’s 2011-12 Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“He’s got that baby face, but he’s a tough kid and he won’t back down from a challenge,” said Cuthbertson coach Mike Helms. “He likes people to challenge him. He accepts it, and I think he plays at a higher level when he gets challenged.”

While Mitchell always seemed to show a proclivity toward the game of basketball, Mitchell’s mother, April, said she saw her son take his dedication to another level when the family moved from Washington state to Waxhaw before Mitchell’s eighth-grade year. April said the family immediately noticed the talent, athleticism and discipline among the players here was higher than what they had seen in the Great Northwest.

“I think he realized that coming out here (and this area being) a basketball mecca, that if he wanted to be successful, he was going to have to work even harder because there was definitely some other kid somewhere else that was putting in that time,” said April.

But the transition wasn’t always seamless, especially when it came to the books, said Mitchell’s father, Shelton Sr.

Though Mitchell originally hails from Washington, he attended a small Catholic school in Portland, Ore., a much different setting than Marvin Ridge Middle School, where he enrolled after moving to Union County.

“It was my first time even going to a public school with full classes with 400 people (in the grade),” Mitchell said. “Where I went to school (in Oregon), there were, like, 20 people in the whole eighth-grade class.”

Shelton Sr. said that the move was a bit of a culture shock for the youngster.

“I knew he had to get adapted,” said Shelton Sr. “As opposed to pushing him along and having him fall behind, we felt that maybe it would be good to re-do his eighth-grade year.

“It wasn’t (a decision based on athletics) because I always felt that would take care of itself. It was to make sure he was doing what he needed to do with the books.”

The following year, Mitchell reclassified as an eighth-grader and enrolled at Matthews’ Covenant Day School, where he made the high school varsity team and starred, even earning a nod to the All-Metrolina Athletic Conference team.

“It kind of helped me get adapted to the schools down here,” said Mitchell. “It was a lot different, but going to Covenant Day helped me out.”

Mitchell’s success continued when he enrolled at Cuthbertson as a freshman and averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds.

This season, the lefty guard surpassed the 1,000-point milestone, a feat usually reserved for upperclassmen. And the college recruiters have taken notice – while his scholarship offers are so far limited to the five aforementioned schools, Mitchell said he’s also heard from programs such as N.C. State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Memphis, Tennessee, Washington, Oregon State and Oregon.

The impending wave of attention promises to be the next obstacle Mitchell will have to hurdle as his career progresses. But this past season gave him a glimpse of what to expect, especially the little moments, such as when a fan approached Mitchell for an autograph shortly before the state championship game tipped off.

“That was probably the biggest thing – getting all the attention and getting used to walking into schools and having no idea how they know me,” said Mitchell with a humble grin. “That’s been the biggest (difference from last year.)

“But after a while I got used to it and just phased it out and played basketball.”

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