SHOOTER’S TOUCH

January 13, 2017, published in the Orange County Register
http://www.ocregister.com/articles/rasheed-741011-kaden-play.html

Most nights, around 10 p.m., Kaden Rasheed shoots at Life Time Athletic in Laguna Niguel. There is no one else there – just how he likes it – only the bright light, the open space and the hoop.

And eight minutes.

Rasheed, the 6-foot-1 go-to-scorer for No. 2 Santa Margarita High School (12-3), forces himself to make 100 3-pointers in eight minutes, all the while grabbing his own rebounds.

This is no small feat, but the senior has been working at it since fifth grade. Back then, he could only reach 60. Now? That’s unacceptable – he’ll do the drill over until he reaches 100.

“Once you get to 90 and you’re close, your hustle just goes up – it skyrockets,” Rasheed said, “because you want it so bad.”

Fortunately for Santa Margarita, Rasheed is usually spot on. The senior, who grew up studying 3-point guru Ray Allen while his peers were watching cartoons, is averaging 15.5 points per game, including shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent on free throws.

Able to attack the rim or stop and pop along the perimeter, Rasheed – also averaging 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.4 steals a night – wants the last shot when time is running out.

Facing Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), then No. 17 in the nation, on the road earlier this month, he nailed two big 3s in the fourth quarter en route to 30 points, lifting Santa Margarita to an 83-78 upset.

“This is my last year,” Rasheed said. “I’m just trying to give it everything I can so I can look back and say I gave it 100 percent.”

As a freshman for Mission Viejo (he transferred the next season), Rasheed challenged Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson, now with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, scoring 24 points.

As a seventh-grader, Rasheed faced off against Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson, a Santa Margarita alum, in a shooting contest called “In the bank.” The shooter who reaches 21 loses – a miss is worth two points; a make is worth zero.

Rasheed knocked down shot after shot, beating Thompson on the NBA regulation-sized court. The middle-schooler tried to play it off cool, even as his hands shook. “Klay was like, ‘Good shot, little man!’” Rasheed said, bursting with pride.

That’s Rasheed – hungry to steal first in any setting.

In practice, he attacks the second unit with just as much intensity as the first, said his coach, Jeff Reinert, when others might take a play off. Even when he was 4 years old, throwing a football with his father, Kenyon, Rasheed would dive for the ball.

“I was lucky enough to play with John Stockton,” Reinert said of the legendary Utah Jazz point guard, as the two played at Gonzaga. “Stockton was a guy that wanted to win everything. Kaden, when you put a competition out there, he wants to compete to win.”

“He plays really hard all the time,” Reinert said. “A lot of people think that jumping or being smart are talents, but being able to play hard all the time is a talent.”

Ask Noah Rasheed, 14 months Kaden’s senior, who played on the team last year. The two recently went at each other, as they have all their lives, in a drill. Neither wanted to lose. Noah’s forehead hit Kaden’s eye, and Kaden had to get stitches. Now he has a scar.

“He never quits on any play,” Noah said.

When the two played Little League baseball, 10-year-old Noah hit his first over-the-fence home run. Kaden was next to bat and followed suit. “All of the parents were like, ‘What are the chances?’ said their mother, Traci Rasheed, “but little brother’s gotta do what big brother does.”

Kaden said he learned discipline from his father, a former running back for Oklahoma and the New York Giants and Jets. Coaching his boys in multiple sports from an early age, Kenyon wouldn’t let anything slip.

Once, when a player didn’t talk in a full-court defensive drill, where players slid 30 consecutive times, up and back, Kenyon made him sing “I’m a Teapot” in front of the whole team.

Playing and training with Harry Wilson’s elite basketball program, CABC, 12-year-old Rasheed learned to hold his own against college and pro players like Thompson. He also developed a high IQ for the game, soaking up tips from his father’s NBA friends like Hall of Famer Gary Payton and former Sacramento Kings guard Bobby Jackson.

“He saw at an early age what it takes to be really good,” Kenyon said.

Rasheed doesn’t jump out of the gym or impress with lightning-quick speed, but over the years he has worked to become much more than a scorer – a fierce defender, rebounder and distributor. He has played some point guard this season to fill in for Pearson Parker, who was injured, while also learning to play without Noah, who played point last year.

“Experience has been a really good thing for Kaden,” Reinert said, “knowing when to go, when not to go, when to pass, when not to pass. He’s always been a scorer. He’s always defended. But now he’s a guy that can pass the ball, and that’s been a big change.”

Rasheed, a three-time All-CIF first-team player, made the all-tournament squad at the Pac Shores Tournament early this season. He has flown under the college recruiting radar; an ankle injury caused him to miss critical summer-evaluation tournaments. Reinert said recruiting will likely speed up as the season progresses, as colleges typically go after posts before guards.

“He’s a Division I player, no doubt,” Reinert said. “When the season gets toward the end for college coaches, they’re going to go, ‘Hey, we need a guard and we need somebody that can score,’ and they’re going to look around and see who’s out there. Kaden will be out there.”

A quiet kid, Rasheed pulls the best out of his teammates without saying a word.

Earlier this fall, the team had to complete four 100-meter sprints around the track during a conditioning session. Rasheed finished first, but looked behind and saw several stragglers who weren’t going to make it. Taking a deep breath, the captain sprinted to the back of the line, joining the players to do the sprints once more.

Everyone crossed the finish line.

“He’s always picking everyone up,” said close friend Christian Blazona, who plays on junior varsity. “This is definitely Kaden’s team and Kaden’s year.”

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About Mirin Fader

Mirin Fader is a sports writer living in Los Angeles. She can be reached on Twitter @MirinFader.

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