Rod Shelton isn’t your average basketball player.
And he couldn’t be prouder of that.
Shelton recently finished up his junior season at Abraham Lincoln High School, and when he was on the court for the Railsplitters, he was playing the role of center.
Standing 6 feet 7, he certainly wasn’t short, but a lot of times he was going against players who were much bigger than him. That tends to happen when you play a schedule like the Railsplitters do. Not only do they play the toughest teams in the Public League, but they play a challenging nonleague schedule.
A lot of those teams have big centers and that means Shelton had to battle some of the bigger guys in the area.
“I’ve been playing varsity this year and a little last year and I’m younger than a lot of guys, I’m still just 16,” said Shelton, who lives across the street from the high school. “But I’m not your average center. I can do a lot of things. At first it was really hard because these guys are 6-10, 6-11, and they’re strong, so I had to play really hard to do well.
“Now I just try to be very versatile. I try to be a good player. But this year, I tried to do things that centers do, but also things they don’t usually do. I believe you can’t judge a book by its cover. I tried to be an all-around player.”
He was everything the Railsplitters needed and more.
Behind Shelton, a co-captain, Lincoln finished 14-8 on the year and advanced all the way to the Public League championship game. The Railsplitters also qualified for the District 12 6A championship game and the 6A state playoffs.
It was the second straight year the Railsplitters advanced to the Public League title game, and even though they failed to win it, losing to nationally ranked Imhotep Charter both times, it just motivates Shelton.
“It’s very important to me that we win the championship next year,” Shelton said. “I really want to leave here with a championship. It’s important because I love playing here. We have great players and great coaches. Our coach is great and so is our strength and conditioning coach. We have a lot of guys who help us.”
At Lincoln, and now with his new AAU team, East Coast Power, Shelton is working on his entire game. And if you see him play, you can see that work is paying off handsomely. Not only is he improving as a center, he’s improving in all facets of the game.
That’s by design.
“My coach wants me to play center, but he’s starting to use me in different ways like power forward and even small forward,” Shelton said. “I usually do things that basketball players have to do. I’ll rebound like a center. But I also play defense. I pass and try to get my teammates open for shots.”
Last weekend, Shelton returned to basketball action with his AAU squad and while playing in a competitive tournament in King of Prussia, East Coast Power emerged victorious. For Shelton, who was nicknamed “Yung” on the Railsplitters for contributing at such an early age, it’s all about improvement.
“Honestly, I don’t like taking time off, I love playing,” Shelton said. “I never stopped, actually. I try to stay active a lot because I can’t sit in the house for so long.”
He loves being active, but he also loves being challenged intellectually.
Shelton has a bright future in basketball. He also has a bright future away from the game. His ultimate goal is to become a zoologist. He’s always had a love for animals and he has a great interest in science.
He hopes to combine those two things for a fascinating career.
“I like animals and discovering new things,” said Shelton, who takes advanced-placement classes at Lincoln. “I’ve always liked animals. I don’t have any, but I plan on getting a dog soon. I don’t have a favorite animal, I haven’t discovered them all. I want to discover new ones. I think the next animal I discover will be my favorite.
“I’ve liked animals at a very young age. Me and my uncle would look up random animals and we would find stuff. I really enjoy doing. I hope to use basketball to get me in position to study science.”
Shelton doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration, and his uncle isn’t the only family support he gets. He credits his mom and dad for being his role models.
“My dad was a basketball player at Germantown, he was good and he had an article written about him, too,” Shelton said. “My mom was a volleyball player at Coatesville and I have two grandparents in the Coatesville Hall of Fame for basketball. That’s where I get my basketball game from.
“My mom comes to every game. She’s always there for me. I have a great family.”
Next year, the goal is to have them there, front and center, when Lincoln wins a championship. And he’s willing to put in the work.
“I’m always working to get faster and stronger,” Shelton said. “I need to be strong to play center. And I’m pretty fast at center. I want to get better and become a better all-around player.”