CFA Academy picks up the pace, wins games
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Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014

CFA Academy picks up the pace, wins games

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- JOE HABINA
Caleb Mercer, Shaun Thompson and Charles Minlend, from left, have led CFA Academy to an 18-3 record this season.

CFA Academy boys’ basketball coach Frank Cantadore Jr. fires off a description of his team’s up-tempo style of play as freely as his players look to score.

“We just … let it fly and see what happens,” said CFA Academy’s third year coach.

An Eagles game has more shots than a flu clinic, but the results have been quite extraordinary. As of Jan. 20, CFA Academy had an 18-3 overall record and was ranked second in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A class by MaxPreps.com.

The Eagles score at a clip of 78 points per game while holding opponents to 60 points per game.

CFA Academy has the talent to make a return trip to the NCISAA 2A state championship game, but the Eagles’ biggest obstacle just happens to be one of the best teams in the country.

Northside Christian Academy is the defending 2A state champion and a Metrolina Athletic Conference rival of CFA Academy.

With four new starters, this year’s CFA Academy team has a completely different makeup than the 2012-13 season. But Cantadore said it comes with the territory.

“The one thing you get here at First Assembly (CFA Academy) and some of these private schools is you have a different team every year,” he said. “I lost five guys from last year and four starters. Sometimes it takes a half a season until guys get used to playing together.”

Two of last year’s key reserves – Charles Minlend and Caleb Mercer – transferred to CFA Academy midyear and joined the team late in the season. This year, Minlend and Mercer are the Eagles’ top two scorers and are the leaders of the lightning-fast pace the team runs.

CFA Academy employs a game-long, full-court press and runs an offense in which no player shies away from the basket. Though the bench is not deep, the Eagles keep up the physically-demanding pace.

“We like to run in transition, be athletic, and put pressure on teams and score a lot of points,” said Minlend, a 6-foot-4 junior guard from Harrisburg. “We get down up and down (the floor) a lot.”

Minlend is the main scoring threat from the outside. He has a soft jumper and can score inside just as well.

A transfer from Northside Academy a year ago, Minlend averaged 10.8 points in CFA Academy’s final 11 games last season. This year, he’s scoring 24.5 points per game. Cantadore said he is being recruited by several Division I colleges.

Adding punch from the outside are guards D.J. Sadler, a junior, and senior Bryan Murr. Providing the spark defensively is Mercer, a 6-foot-3 senior wing averaging 16.5 points per game this season. His specialty is getting ahead of the play and finishing on the offensive end.

“Its not that I can’t shoot,” said Mercer, who lives in Mooresville. “It’s just that I don’t shoot because I’d rather dunk on you. I like to take the ball to the basket.”

Mercer’s improved free throw shooting has been key this year. His two free throws with 0.6 seconds left in the game gave CFA Academy a 65-63 win over SouthLake Christian on Jan. 17.

As a team, CFA Academy is very athletic and rebounds well. Shaun Thompson, a 6-foot-4 senior, and Nico Payne, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, are strong around the basket.

Some of the Eagles’ best wins have come against public schools in the Tiger Holiday Classic tournament and against some of the top 2A private-independent schools in the state, including Gaston Day and Davidson Day.

As good as CFA Academy is, the Eagles lost to Northside Christian 99-64 in December. The teams were scheduled to meet again on Jan. 24, and they are likely to face each other one more time in the MAC conference tournament, which starts Feb. 11.

Last year, CFA Academy posted a 25-6 overall record, with four of those losses coming against Northside – including the state title game, 84-63. The Eagles’ other two losses were by a combined four points.

“That team is just so loaded with talent,” Cantadore said. “You just have to approach it with the mentality that we have nothing to lose. You have to slow them down, get back in transition and rebound. Most teams haven’t been able to do that.”

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at joehabina@yahoo.com.

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