The following article was published Tuesday, Jan. 23, in the Macon Telegraph.
By Sarah Meinecke
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER
Shaddean Aaron has a clear recollection when it comes to his first practice with the Mercer men's basketball team, mostly because head coach Mark Slonaker didn't wait long before testing Aaron's skills.
During the California native's memorable introduction to collegiate basketball, Slonaker had Aaron guard Wesley Duke, the well-known former Bear who averaged more than 11 points and seven rebounds per game his final year with Mercer.
"It was hard, and I will say it now, (Slonaker) did me dirty," Aaron said with a laugh. "He had me guard Wesley Duke, and that was a real hard challenge. I looked at (Duke), and he was huge, while here I was (180 pounds). I had to work down low with him the rest of the semester."
Added Slonaker, also laughing, "I had to find out what he was made of."
It was a tough challenge for Aaron, but one that he wasn't going to shy away from. Especially because the 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard believes that hard work leads to success.
And to say that Aaron has worked hard to earn a starting spot on the Bears' squad this year is an understatement. His journey has been marred with disappointments and letdowns before finally reaching the success Aaron had waited for.
"I got here in spring 2004, and I used my redshirt that year because I wasn't quite ready," Aaron said. "That semester helped me a lot. I knew what to expect the following year."
But before Aaron joined the Bears, he suffered through a string of disappointments, starting immediately after graduating from high school.
Although Aaron had been scouted by such teams as Oregon State and Boston College, he found himself without a scholarship after high school because of miscommunication between his high school coach and college scouts.
Not quite sure what to do next, Aaron continued to play with various AAU squads in hopes of attracting attention from a school while staying in basketball shape.
"The schools that were recruiting me were dealing with time, and they couldn't wait for me," Aaron said. "I had to make a decision to go to a Division II school or sit out and wait for a Division I school. I chose to sit out and wait. I played anywhere I could find."
It appeared to be a solid choice when one of Aaron's AAU coaches had a connection to Mercer, and Aaron sent a DVD of his highlights to Slonaker.
The highlight reel, Slonaker remembered, wasn't of the highest quality, but the coach liked what he saw. After a phone conversation, Aaron was on his way across the country to play for the Bears. Just one problem lingered.
"He came up short on (Mercer's academic) requirements," Slonaker remembered. "He had to go to summer school, but he didn't make the grades. Our recommendation was that he should go to (junior college) and play.
"Fortunately for us, we were wrong. (Aaron and his father, Carl) talked to the admissions office about what courses he would have to take to make it back into Mercer. He took all the initiative and did all the work."
After redshirting that first year, Aaron averaged 2.3 points over 18 games in his first season of action, increasing that to 4.8 points while starting 12 of 28 games last year.
The computer science major entered this season with high hopes of earning a starting position but was listed as first off the bench when play began.
"He was disappointed because he felt he had earned (the start)," Slonaker said. "But he has gone from a great sixth man to one of the premier guards in the league."
When returning starter Montavious Waters quit, the door to starting opened for Aaron, and he has more than taken advantage of the opportunity. He is second on the team in scoring with an average of 15.6 points per game while grabbing 5.7 rebounds, good for sixth and ninth in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
"I just want to finish out this year strong," Aaron said. "We still have a chance to win the league. We just have to play every game like it is the last, and try to win."
Contact Meinecke at 744-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org