When Shawn Lester came to Mooresville High four years ago, Blue Devils coach Mike Micklow figured he had the makings of a star. Lester was a naturally gifted athlete who had the kind of picture-perfect jump shot most high school players, even 12th graders, only dream of having.
During a stellar four-year career, one that includes Lester signing with the Charlotte 49ers last month, Micklow said his star 6-foot-3 senior guard has rarely disappointed.
"He just makes plays," Micklow said after Mooresville beat Ardrey Kell in the first round of the Hardwood Classic at Bojangles' Coliseum Tuesday. Mooresville played Davidson Day in a semifinal Wednesday night. "He's just an athlete. They say he could be a Division One quarterback with the way he throws the ball. He's amazing."
Lester started at wide receiver for a Mooresville team that reached the N.C. 4A football semifinals last month. And now, as he rounds into basketball shape, he said he's simply determined to make others raise their level of play.
"I'm not trying to score," he said. "I just want to help make my other guys better. I can score when I want to, but it's like I tell (my teammates), 'I want to get y'all involved.' "
Lester is ranked by a few national recruiting services as one of the nation's top 150 seniors. He's got a powerfully built body and he's quick and fast at the same time - quick enough to get by you, fast enough so you don't catch up. He punctuates dribble drives with powerful layups or punishing dunks, and that aforementioned jump shot is good well past the college 3-point line.
But like he said, he's not really into trying to score first this year. As a junior, he averaged 18 points, five assists and five rebounds. This year, after spending time really working on his leg strength, he's become quite a leaper, averaging 10 rebounds per game to go with 14 points and five assists.
Still, when and if Mooresville needs Lester to go off for a big scoring game, that ability is there. Last July, for example, at the AAU Nationals in Orlando, Lester made seven 3-point shots on seven straight possessions for the CP3 N.C. team.
"Lester is one of those guys that heats up quickly," said ESPN national recruiting analyst Dave Telep, who is based in Raleigh. "He can do it going to the rim and off the catch behind the line. He's got that gift of athleticism mixed in with an ability to get buckets."
He showed off that scoring ability late in the Ardrey Kell game Tuesday.
Lester scored half of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, including five straight to break open a game that was tied at 45.
"The difference was Shawn Lester," Ardrey Kell coach Mike Craft said. "It was 45-all and he gets five straight points. He goes in and makes an acrobatic layup and hits a three (point shot) and we never could recover."
Lester hopes to take that big moment ability with him to Charlotte, where he was recruited heavily by second-year 49ers assistant coach Ryan Odom. Odom started recruiting Lester when he was at Virginia Tech. When Odom was hired by Charlotte in April 2010, he continued to recruit Lester, only to a school much closer to Mooresville than Virginia Tech was.
"I knew coach Odom for a long time," Lester said. "I first met him at a V.T. camp, and he made me a priority then. When he got to Charlotte, he stayed on me. I took an official visit in November and they showed me love. I loved it there. It was down to South Carolina and Clemson and Charlotte, but Charlotte was where I wanted to be."
Lester said Charlotte felt like home. Micklow, his coach, said he made a great choice.
"He's a big family guy," Micklow said. "Charlotte's close to home and he and coach Odom have a great relationship. It's about loyalty with Shawn, he's big on that. And he'll bring scoring with him to Charlotte. He'll fit in nice and he'll be playing in front of the home fans, which should be fun for him. That's what he wanted, and I think the sky's the limit for him. He's a guy who can step in there right away and do his thing."