When parents and coaches first saw Sheldon Cotton step onto the court to shoot hoops at the Hernando County YMCA, what they saw shocked them.
Sheldon, 3, is a player in the Itty Bitty Preschool Basketball League, a league made up of 3- to 5-year-olds. Unlike most of the young boys and girls who play every Saturday, Sheldon had prior basketball experience. In fact, Sheldon can already shoot, dribble and pass with ease, a set of skills that had the officials in charge of games in awe of his ability.
"Most of the kids who come out at that age don't know why they're out there and what they're supposed to do with the ball," YMCA sports coordinator Jen Huden said. "Sheldon grabbed the ball the first day and dribbled down the court like he'd been doing it forever."
Not only did he dribble, but Sheldon could shoot from all different spots on the court. He was also the only preschooler to hold his hands up on defense. At this level, the Y doesn't keep score of the games or statistics, but each basket is cheered, even the shots on the wrong side of the court. With a smile on their face, most kids soak in the praise of the crowd of parents. Sheldon was no exception, loving every minute. To his mother, Michelle DaCosta, the reaction was even more surprising considering Sheldon's usually timid nature.
"At first, I wasn't even going to sign him up to play because he is usually so shy and quiet," DaCosta said. "When he gets out onto the court, he's like a different person."
Born in Manhasset, N.Y., basketball started for Sheldon when he was just 11/2 years old. Javon McCassa, 14, Sheldon's older brother, plays basketball for Springstead High and also had been playing since he was very young in New York. The family moved here when Sheldon was only 6 months old, but every day Javon would go outside and shoot hoops in the driveway.
It wasn't long before his younger brother began following him out there. Shortly after, he was dribbling the ball. Next came shooting, but Sheldon started watching NBA games with Javon on TV. It has gotten to the point where Sheldon knows all of the players on the Orlando Magic and is fully capable of following the game.
"He cheers when one of the players makes a shot that he likes," DaCosta said. "He plays basketball everyday with his brother. He never misses a day."
The Itty Bitty Preschool Basketball League ended two weeks ago and the YMCA handed out trophies to every kid. DaCosta is already looking forward to January and the facility's next scheduled league.
The Hernando County YMCA is the only place in the county that offers basketball to kids under 5, and this one has nearly 50 participating. Even the other parents are impressed by Sheldon's young skills.
But it was when the other parents started realizing, then telling DaCosta how impressed they were by Sheldon's young skills that it allowed her to see the kind of talent her son has.
"It was the other parents' reactions that were making me realize how good he was," DaCosta said.
"When I saw him with the other kids, I thought, I guess we do have something special here."
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