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Unleashing the Sheckles


Stephan Sheckles is just grateful to be playing basketball. 

The 6’5” American is one of a batch of new recruits to the Scottish Phoenix Mitsubishi Rocks this season. However, rather than spouting cocky, over-confident promises of winning the league and becoming league MVP, he talks of his surprise at even making it at all as a professional basketball player and explains how basketball has been his saviour.

The 27-year-old from Louisville in Kentucky freely admits that he rather stumbled on his basketball career, but he’s thankful for the way things have turned out, especially when he thinks of the alternative.

“If I hadn’t started playing basketball, I would probably be on the streets right now, not actually living on the streets, but into some bad stuff on the streets. Basketball has been like a salvation for me.

“I started playing kind of late. It wasn’t until eighth grade [14 years old] that I started. I had always liked basketball, but it wasn’t until high school when I played four years there, but I didn’t really expect to get anywhere. 

“I wasn’t even sure if I was going to go to college, but I got the opportunity to go to college, so I went and won a Championship and then I went for two years at Tarleton State and it went pretty good. I didn’t think I would make it this far, actually.”

Sheckles attended Northeast Oklahoma Junior College and Sullivan Junior College. While at Sullivan, he won the NJCAA National Tournament in 1996 and was named to the All-Tournament 1st team – a world away from a life on the streets.

Following two years at junior college came a spell at Tarleton State, where Sheckles met Ryan Huntley, now a team-mate at the Rocks. Stephan admits that it has been a few key people, like Huntley [during his brief time at the Rocks so far] and his college coach Lonn Reisman [during his time at Tarleton State], who have helped him as a person and as a player.

“It has been a big help to have Ryan here with me,” he explained. “Ryan is a good person off the floor as well. He helped me at Tarleton State and I also had the best coach I have ever had there – he was the only person who really cared for me outside of basketball, who didn’t want to use me just for my talent – he made me a better person. 

“Coming here, Ryan has really helped me also, we’re good friends and even though we didn’t really hang out a lot at Tarleton, we do here – every day we are together, everywhere we go. 

“It’s nice to have a familiar face here. When I was in Australia [playing for Rockingham Flames last season], it was kind of lonely, because I was the only American on the team. I was kind of homesick, because I living in a hotel the whole time, which I didn’t like too much.

“I am glad Ryan is here, because I do miss my family. I just had a son last month and he is back in the States, which is very hard. I already miss him and I’ve only been gone for about a month. I won’t be there for his first birthday and I miss a lot, but it’s worth it. The up side is that I get to help my family, help my girlfriend to maintain the household and pay the bills and my son is something for me to look forward to when I go home.”

To hear Sheckles talk about his family, his experience at college and his fears of what might have happened to him had it not been for basketball, it’s easy to see the vulnerability that lurks under the surface. He is a modest man as far as his talent is concerned, seemingly surprised that he has done as well as he has. Indeed, rather than thinking too deeply about his game, he seems to just let it all come naturally and confine his thoughts to subjects close to his heart, like his family.

He is currently the BBL’s leading scorer with a 26.67 points per game scoring average, but he doesn’t put too much weight on that statistic and nor does he set himself any overly ambitious targets.

“It actually wasn’t my aim to be the leading scorer in the BBL,” he said. “I just wanted to be one of the better players in the league, but I certainly didn’t think I would be the leading scorer. It’s a great feeling, but there are 40 games in a season, so it’s early. My aim was just to get better and to help the Rocks. I haven’t set many targets, just to be injury-free and play well and that’s about it.

“Things are going well. It has been good, because there’s a good atmosphere and the people are nice. I like it so far, so far so good.

“We have got three wins in a row and we really needed that, but hopefully there is more to come. I think the team is starting to gel now, because we have new players on the team – Shawn Myers has just joined the team and he’s fitting in pretty well with us. Our chemistry in practice was looking fine this week, so the team is looking pretty good.

“The BBL seems like a pretty strong league, from what I have seen so far, it seems like a guard’s league. It’s certainly much stronger than the league I played in last year in Australia. I didn’t have too many expectations. I just wanted to play my game and whatever league I ended up at I was going to do that.”

It’s early days, of course, but so far so good. It could so easy have turned out differently, but so far fortunes has favoured Sheckles and in doing so favoured the Scottish Phoenix Mitsubishi Rocks and the BBL as a whole.

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