Eagle thriving in new starting role

First Assembly basketball player Zac Cantadore will always be able to joke that he received his first college scholarship offer when he was in grade school.

Next year, Cantadore will play for the college coach that kiddingly promised years ago that he would one day sign the Eagles' senior guard.

Coming from an athletic family, Cantadore was first introduced to coach Bill Robinson when Robinson coached Cantadore's brother at Montreat College around the turn of the century. Now Robinson is at Milligan College in Johnson City, Tenn., where Cantadore signed to play next season.

He would say, "'We're going to sign you the second you get old enough,'" said Cantadore. "I didn't even know what signing meant."

A two-sport standout at First Assembly, Cantadore and his family moved to Concord in 2005. That followed a family move from Torrington, Conn., to Charlotte, where Cantadore's father, Frank, worked at United Faith Christian Academy for three years.

After a couple years of home schooling, Cantadore and his brother Nate (now a sophomore) enrolled at First Assembly for the 2007-08 school year. Cantadore had the luxury of already knowing his baseball and basketball coaches well.

First Assembly's basketball coach, Dave Murr, had coached him in a Charlotte youth recreation league during his middle school years. And the baseball coach was his father, who was by then First Assembly's headmaster.

Cantadore played most of his freshman basketball season with the junior varsity team. He averaged 14 points a game and shot 38 percent from the three-point line.

But his most memorable game his freshman year was one of the eight games he spent with the varsity team as a bench fill-in. First Assembly had the opportunity to play against Grace Academy at Charlotte Bobcats Arena (now Time Warner Cable Arena) and he had a game that will forever be archived in the Cantadore family video library.

In a lopsided First Assembly win, Cantadore came off the bench in the fourth quarter and rained in all five of his three-point attempts to score 15 points.

Like the year before, Cantadore spent most of his sophomore season with the JV but also dressed out for varsity non-conference games and for post-season play. Recuperating from a broken leg from the previous summer, Cantadore says his quickness was limited, which allowed him to work more on his outside game.

That experience prepared him for his junior season when he became the varsity team's sixth man. Cantadore was quite comfortable coming off the bench as a three-point specialist, helping the Eagles to a second straight state championship game appearance.

Making 35 percent of his threes, Cantadore averaged more than six points per game and totaled 50 assists and 39 steals in 29 games.

With the departure of four graduating seniors, this season Cantadore has stepped into a starting position, averaging 14 points through the first four games. Entering the season with 829 career points, he is likely to reach the 1,000 point plateau.

"In 20 years of coaching I don't know if I've had a better kid to coach than him," said Murr. "He's a great kid, a great student. He's unselfish. He's one of those kids you love to coach."

After his junior year, Cantadore became more committed to basketball than ever. He played his first year of summer league ball under the direction of coach Frankie Cantadore, the brother who played for Milligan's Robinson eight years ago.

An honor roll student and National Honor Society member, Cantadore is a well-rounded student. He is also a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was First Assembly's homecoming king this year.

The opportunity to play at Milligan has made Cantadore reconsider playing baseball his senior season, despite being named all-conference as a junior. Playing mostly middle infield, Cantadore batted .398 and led the Eagles in hits and slugging percentage. He says he wants to concentrate on basketball during the spring.

At Milligan, he will be reunited with 2010 First Assembly graduates Kyle Grisby and Seth Simmons.