INDIANAPOLIS — There were times when temptation crept in. It taunted Sydney Shelton through the pulsating pain shooting down her right leg, the ever constant source of her frustration.
With every failed attempt to cut, pivot or change direction, it whispered in her ear — quit.
When the leg gave out, which it routinely did, on game nights and in practice, the hardwood gym floor felt like a bed of pillows, a warm safe place to burrow her weary body and mind deep, far away from the agonizing reality.
In those fleeting moments, Shelton strangled her fear, the doubt. She refused.
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“I can say that God really used that to strengthen my faith. When you have to overcome something, it makes you mentally stronger,” said Shelton, a 2016 Indiana All-Star. “When you don’t have anything to really test you, you don’t know how strong you really are until you have to set your mind to beat something and come back stronger and better.”
Since being named an Indiana Junior All-Star core member a year ago, nothing has gone according to plan for the Mt. Vernon star point guard.
Competing nearly year-round, Shelton spent last summer auditioning for a 2016 Indiana All-Star team bid and set herself apart while thrusting her name into Indiana’s Miss Basketball conversation among the state’s elite.
She participated in the 2015 Indiana Class Basketball All-Star Classic at Anderson University and helped her AAU team reach the championship at the Nike Nationals in North Augusta, South Carolina.
Then, the future Butler Bulldogs’ fortune turned.
A ROUGH ROAD
Prior to the national title game, Shelton hyper-extended the elbow in her non-shooting hand, which slowed the senior’s preseason conditioning. Reliant on her instinctive drive to prevail, the Marauders’ all-time leading scorer labored through three and a half months of physical therapy before finally being cleared just two days before the 2015-16 season.Five weeks later, adversity hit the reset button, again.
Clipped on a jump shot and landing awkwardly during a game against Yorktown on Dec. 12, her final season nearly crumbled as she suffered extensive muscle and joint damage in her leg.
Gutting through five more games, Shelton hobbled her way through the inevitable, scoring 28 points three days after the injury against New Palestine until finally shutting it down in late December.
“It was more frustration for her. She wasn’t able to overcome it. I think she thought she could,” Mt. Vernon head coach Steve Doud said. “Her desire was still there to be on the floor. Her desire was still there to perform. In the back of her mind she still had the hope that she was going to be back on the floor.
“She did, but it wasn’t 100 percent by any means.”
Sitting out six games, Shelton returned Jan. 28 against Delta, though questionable at every step, she said.
On 10 occasions before being relegated to street clothes, she scored 25 or more points and eclipsed 30 points twice with a season-high 36 against Warren Central on Nov. 7. In the final stretch, Shelton produced 20-plus points in one game, unable to drive the lane and relying instead on NBA range 3-pointers.
Not that she shied away from getting buckets from any distance. Known for her 3-point prowess, Shelton has made 222 shots from beyond the arc in 641 career attempts at approximately 35 percent efficiency.
As a freshman and a Class 3A state champion, she finished with 502 points in 27 games and 50 3-pointers made. The next year, and in five fewer games at 22, she added another 448 points and 52 treys before leading Hancock County in scoring with 542 points and 63 3-pointers her junior year.
Shelton scored 493 points in 21 games as a senior, averaged 23.5 points per contest and in a 62-31 win against Twin Lakes on Dec. 29, while hampered, surpassed Greenfield-Central’s Ellen Hamilton (1,885) as the county’s all-time girls basketball scoring leader. Shelton holds the record with 1,985 points.
“She’s really tough. It all goes through her work ethic. I think she has the strongest work ethic of any player I’ve ever coached,” said Doud, who has coached 15 years of boys and girls basketball. “That has helped her in her toughness to fight through the injuries.”
Her grit and belief in power much larger than her own is what carried her days after she limped off the Mt. Vernon gym floor Feb. 6, defeated by Greenfield-Central 61-43 in the program’s third sectional finals appearance in four years.
Confined to crutches for nine straight weeks to allow her leg to heal, Shelton’s resolve was tested.“It was definitely hard. You don’t want to be taken away from the game that you love,” she said. “It definitely gives you time to think and appreciate the game. I’m not going to say it’s easy because it’s not. It’s been good though. It’s been a journey.”
In March, Shelton’s doctors supplied well-needed good news, informing her surgery wasn’t necessary after extensive evaluation, which included a motion test, scans, measurements in flexibility, strength and balance.
There was a catch, though. She could resume training, but no cutting, no crossovers, nothing but straight line shooting, running and lunges.
“I was shooting again and doing things, but my physical therapist didn’t want any change of direction until now,” said Shelton, who was contending with muscle atrophy while ramping up her activity. “That’s what irritated my leg the most, so we dragged it out. In basketball, you change direction all the time. That’s basketball.”
BACK TO COURT
Shelton was unable to play in a game until this past Tuesday in the first of two exhibition warm ups between the Indiana Senior and Indiana Junior All-Stars at Bloomington High School South.In preparation for a busy week, she’s been practicing with the Indiana All-Stars — twice a day — at Marian University, where all 13 players have roomed since Sunday.
Her first and only points during the opening exhibition game, fittingly, came off a 3-pointer as Shelton floated out on the wing, burying the shot followed by a casual smile.
On Thursday in Lebanon, her minutes increased from 13 to 14. She finished with seven points on 2 of 5 shooting, draining two 3-pointers to go with a rebound and an assist while wearing Indiana All-Star red, white and blue.
“I’m extremely blessed to even have this opportunity and being in this position. Ever since I was little, this is something you look forward to and hope to be able to accomplish one day,” Shelton said. “You watch these players when you’re growing up and see them on this stage, representing the state, and you hope one day to do the same.
“It makes you feel pride and respect for your state. It makes you take a step back and realize no matter what you’re an all-star.”
An undefeated all-star experience sounds even better, said Shelton, who has spent the past few days soaking up the collegiate-level competition with her teammates that she calls “the best in the nation.”
With a dozen players on the roster heading to NCAA Division I programs, the Indiana All-Stars beat the Juniors in both exhibitions and are eager to build upon the Hoosier State’s 45-35 series lead against the Kentucky All-Stars this weekend.
The Indiana All-Star girls have played Kentucky since 1976 and host their intrastate rivals today at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for a doubleheader with the girls game starting at 5 p.m. The scene switches to Knights Hall at Bellarmine College in Louisville on Sunday with the girls opening the doubleheader at 1 p.m.
Shelton is competing as the sixth girls Indiana All-Star in Mt. Vernon program history and eighth overall.
“She’s following in the steps of some pretty good Indiana All-Stars before her and she rates right up there with them,” Doud said. “Nobody spends more time on the game than she has. Her love for the game probably far exceeds anybody I’ve ever been around on the high school level.
“I’m happy the injury has healed where she can showcase herself in those games. She deserves this.”
She’s an Indiana All-Star.
“I don’t have a lot of regrets,” Shelton said. “I’m really pleased with what I’ve been able to accomplish in my high school career. This chapter is coming to an end, and I can’t go back. All I can do is move forward, start a new chapter at Butler, continue to work hard, stay humble and keep God first and see where that takes me.”
High School: Mt. Vernon
College: Butler University
Position: Point guard
Year-by-year/career varsity statistics
High scoring game as senior: 36 vs. Warren Central
High scoring game in career: 37 vs. Lawrence Central (2013-14)
High rebound game as senior: 11 vs. Franklin
High rebound game in career: 11 vs. Franklin (2015-16)
High assist game as senior: 7 vs. Pendleton Heights
High assist game in career: 8 vs. Hamilton Heights (2013-14)
High steals game as senior: 9 vs. Connersville
High steals game in career: 10 vs. Richmond (2014-15)
Individual basketball honors
• 2016 IBCA/Subway Senior Supreme 15
• Two-Time Hancock County Player of the Year (2013-14 and 2014-15)
• Four-Time All-Hancock County Team
• Four-Time All-Hoosier Heritage Conference
• 2015 Indiana Junior All-Star (core team member)
• 2016 McDonald’s All American nominee
• Mt. Vernon’s sixth girls basketball Indiana All-Star, eighth overall
• Mt. Vernon and Hancock County all-time leading scorer (1,985 points)
Indiana All-Stars from Hancock County
Girls (beginning in 1976)
Sydney Shelton, Mt. Vernon 2016
Erica Moore, Mt. Vernon 2014
Jessica Brown, Mt. Vernon, 2012
Johna Goff, Mt. Vernon, 2000
Sarah Haynes, New Palestine, 1994
Janet Meeker, Greenfield-Central, 1989
Beth Davis, Greenfield-Central, 1988
Barb Skinner, Mt. Vernon, 1979
Elizabeth Skinner, Mt. Vernon, 1978
Boys (beginning in 1939)
Daniel Turner, Mt. Vernon, 2010
John Hamilton, Greenfield-Central, 2000
John Allison, New Palestine, 1998
Brian Gilpin, Mt. Vernon, 1992
Mike Edwards, Greenfield, 1969