Prior to becoming a Railsplitter, Shaquil Bender was a good basketball player.
But he definitely needed some improvements.
So when he transferred to Abraham Lincoln High School prior to his junior year, he needed work.
A lot of it.
“I think the two biggest things I learned here were to play defense and lift weights,” said Bender, a senior and the leading scorer on the Railsplitters. “I played defense, but I’m so much better now. I wasn’t good. I didn’t really play it the way I should. I was just doing it. But here, you have to really play defense. You have to know what you’re doing. We play defense.”
The defense was easy.
The lifting, that wasn’t fun. At least at first.
“I never lifted before, not at all,” Bender said with a smile. “It was hard. You get really sore when you first start lifting. I never did it, so it took some getting used to, but once I did, I like it.
“I just needed to get stronger. That’s why I started eating more. Eating a lot of protein. I always eat peanut butter. That gives you a lot of protein and a lot of energy.”
These days, Bender is no longer a skinny guard. He’s a strong swingman who usually plays the wing and he now throws up over 200 pounds on the bench press. That extra muscle helped him score 19 points a game and helped Lincoln reach the second round of the state playoffs.
Last Wednesday, Bender scored 17 points, but it wasn’t enough as Lincoln fell to Methacton 83-55 at William Tennent in a Class 6A second-round game. Lincoln also got strong showings from Shamir Williamson, who scored 17 points, and Matthew Williams, who added 10, but the Railsplitters found very little success against the District One champion. The game was played on the final night the PIAA allowed teams to play before shutting down the tournament for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus.
It marked the end of the season for the Railsplitters, who finished 14-11. They also ended up making the Public League semifinals and also won a game in the state tournament when they knocked off Bensalem in the first round.
All in all, it was a great season for Lincoln under first-year head coach Jamel Lindsey, who served as an assistant coach prior to this year.
“We had a lot of younger guys who played great this year,” Bender said. “I think people looked to me to be a leader because I’m older and I scored a lot, but I didn’t have to score all the time. The other guys were scoring a lot, too.
“We played pretty well as a team. I think we got better all year. Once we started playing well, we played better as a team. We just needed to play better.”
While the Railsplitters did have a solid team, Bender was the straw that stirred the drink on offense.
He could play a few different positions, and whenever the team needed a big basket, they put the ball in his hands.
Scoring was always his forte, and this year he proved to be one of the top scorers in the Public League. But he took more pride in his ability to do many different things.
“Our team defense was important,” Bender said. “Scoring was something you have to do, but when people would try to shut me down, they had trouble because the other guys scored. And that helped me. That let me score more. When they started to focus on the other guys, it gave me a chance to score.”
Bender hopes his strong senior campaign will help him nail down a college scholarship, ideally at the Division I level, but he’ll be happy for a chance to play anywhere. His project is to now find the perfect spot for him, athletically and academically.
“I want to major in engineering,” said Bender, a B student who lives near Kensington and Allegheny avenues. “I want to play in college. I’ve talked to some coaches. I think I’ll do it more now that the season is over.”
While Bender will move on, the Railsplitters will get back to work once schools open again. And Bender believes next year could be even better than this year because the team graduates just three seniors.
“They’re going all the way next year,” Bender said. “I’ll be watching them. They should be very good next year. I think they’ll be able to win a lot of games. Championships.”
A Lincoln championship would be great for Bender because he’ll always be a Railsplitter at heart.
“I’m glad I came here,” Bender said. “I love everything about the school. I’ll miss everything about the school, but mostly basketball. I love this team.”