Head 9th grade boys basketball coach Shaquille Gatlin has tasked himself with the mission of giving the new generation of Jaguars a winning mentality. In response, his freshman boys basketball team worked hard to reach the postseason.
A returning Cedar Shoals alumni, Coach Gatlin now coaches the same 9th-grade boys basketball team he played on when he was a student in 2007.
For Gatlin, it’s like nothing has changed since he graduated. The goals of the basketball program are still the same.
“It’s the same program. Get good grades, lights out defense, and be good on and off the court,” said Coach Gatlin.
The bond that Gatlin shares with boys basketball head coach L’Dreco Thomas, who also graduated from Cedar Shoals in 1990, is special. Thomas offered Gatlin his first coaching position on the football team.
That first coaching job came in the form of a football internship in fall 2015. As basketball season began, he also worked with the junior varsity basketball squad. Observing his dedication to program, Coach Thomas asked Gatlin to be the head coach of the 9th-grade boys basketball team in the 2016-17 school year.
“I see a lot of myself when Coach Gatlin is coaching. He has established a good relationship with them, but he also demands their respect,” said Coach Thomas.
The freshman team serves as the springboard for the development of players in Thomas’ highly successful and growing program. This year, the 9th-grade team finished the season with an impressive record of 10-2.
“The expectations of the team are communication, defense, effort and most importantly being student athletes,” said Coach Gatlin. “We want the players to have a championship mentality and go undefeated.”
As the team gets better, the rest of region continues to improve as well.
“Newton County, they have a good program just like us overall, so they can be a problem for us,” said Gatlin.
Given his proximity in age to his players, Gatlin thinks they can relate to him well on and off the court.
“They like hearing things in their language too because I’m about their age, and I have been in this program and system before,” said Gatlin.
“He’s a good coach. He pushes us to get good grades and be good on the court. He’s a friend and he’s done things for me on and off the court.” said freshman Isaiah Sanchez.
Being on the team is not simply all about basketball; it’s something bigger than that.
“We develop young men to become better fundamental basketball players and student athletes and get them ready for the future,” said Gatlin.
Sanchez, the starting point guard, and fellow freshman Jayquan Martin, starting power forward, stepped up to become leaders of this year’s 9th-grade team.
“We’re playing pretty good right now. Good defense, scoring, penetrating, passing the ball, and grabbing rebounds is how I contribute to the team,” said Martin, who has developed alongside Sanchez for several years, creating good chemistry on the court.
“We’re good at moving the ball because we’ve been playing together for three years now,” said Martin.
The most important game for Sanchez and Martin’s 9th-grade team came against county rival Clarke Central, a game that ended in a 68-56 loss for Cedar Shoals. The duo is hungry to avenge that loss starting with the first game against the Gladiators next year.
“Losing against Central, we lost momentum after the first half and Central gained theirs. Next time that won’t happen,” said Martin.