Lake Clifton's Shauntaze Drake trying 'to be the best role model'

Shauntaze Drake has become a leader in his family and at Lake Clifton since tragedy struck.

Shauntaze Drake found his mother's hand and held it tight.

She was crying and as much as the 17-year-old wanted to do the same, and needed to, he knew he couldn't.

And so he didn't. Instead, Drake stood stoically with his mother in the emergency room at University of Maryland Medical Center, grieving inside while saying goodbye to his slain brother.

Shauntaze's "brother always told him if something happened to him, he would be the man of the house," his mother, Kenya Cochran, said. "And that clicked in his head."

Shaquil Hinton, 21, had been shot several times the night before he died in the early morning of May 25, becoming one of Baltimore's 344 homicides in 2015.

Hinton, who led a troubled life, left behind a 2-year-old son.

Drake, now a senior at Lake Clifton and captain of the boys basketball team, loved and respected his half-brother, but chooses not to follow in his path.

Instead, he learns from Hinton's mistakes.

"I'm young and it's a lot of pressure," said Drake, who also helps care for a younger brother and sister. "My nephew looks up to me, so I try to be the best role model I can be so he won't follow his father — because my brother wasn't living like he was supposed to live."

By his mother's account, Hinton was mostly kindhearted with a good personality and a ready smile. But she said he made the wrong decisions when he quit high school and got involved with drugs.

Drake has taken a different route. Basketball, he said, has helped save him.

Never too much basketball

Growing up, even on days there was too much snow to have school, there was never enough to keep Drake from making the two-block trek to the only basketball court in the area when he lived at Lexington Terrace.

Orders from his mother would come first: snow boots, coat and hat.

Getting out the front door was often his toughest challenge, the stoop blanketed by snow that would reach his knees.

It was the same for the court, so he would find his spot, clear it and shoot. Hours would go by — shooting the ball, fetching it, returning to the spot and shooting again — until the yell came that it was time to come home.

Drake described himself as "super small" when he came to Lake Clifton as a freshman, recalling that he was about 5 feet 4 and weighing next to nothing.

The junior varsity team didn't have any game shorts small enough to fit him, so the smallest pair was used with each side folded and pinned before games.

"So here's this bony little kid, but he always had a lot of energy, a good attitude, and he always worked hard," JV coach Stephen Hill said. "And he could always shoot."

Drake didn't start on JV in his freshman year, but was a starter and captain as a sophomore. Last year, he made varsity and played sparingly on a senior-laden team that won the Baltimore City championship and reached the Class 1A state title game.

"My brother was here for every game," Drake said. "He sat at the baseline with his phone out recording me. When I was playing JV, he would stay for the varsity because he loved the atmosphere. He always stopped what he was doing to get here."

Making his brother proud

This season, Drake believes his brother is watching him play from a seat above.

"Before every game, before every practice, before everything I do, I think about him. He's always with me," Drake said. "I carry his obituary with me and before every game, I look at it and tell him, 'It's for you.'"

Drake has worked hardand stayed focused and it shows in his play. The Lakers (11-7) were expecting to rely heavily on a talented sophomore class that was instrumental in last season's undefeated Baltimore City JV championship team.

But Drake, one of three seniors, has provided leadership as a captain and a fine scoring touch. And now, at 5-11, he's showing he can do much more than just shoot. He's averaging 14 points, four assists and three rebounds per game, and bringing scrappy defense that sets a tone for his teammates.

"I couldn't ask any more from him as far as his leadership, energy, enthusiasm and his focus. The guys follow his focus," Lake Clifton coach Herman "Tree" Harried said. "He has a big heart and a good personality, but when it's time to get locked in and focused, he knows when it's time to play."

The season has produced a moment Drake will never forget, a defining moment that showed what he can bring to the team.

In a rematch of last year's Baltimore City title game against Patterson, on Dec. 18, the host Lakers trailed by three points when Drake hit a 3-pointer while being fouled with two seconds remaining. Much of the enthusiastic home crowd rushed the court, despite the fact there was still time left, and Drake had more work to do from the free-throw line. During the five-minute delay needed to return everybody to their seats, Drake looked over at Harried and calmly said: "I got this."

The Lakers had made just four of 13 free throws to that point, but Drake's aim was perfect. The Lakers won, 56-55.

If there ever was a "me" moment in sports, that qualified: a rare four-point play in the final seconds to win the season's biggest game to date.

Drake didn't think of it that way. He considered everything that took place before his big shot, like Steven Parker's scrapping for an offensive rebound and alertly kicking the ball back out to a waiting Drake.

"We didn't panic," Drake said. "Steven got the rebound and passed it to me. He believed in me and my team believed in me and I made the shot. But if it wasn't for Steven, who got the rebound and assist, it wouldn't have happened."

Success in classroom, too

The same maturity Drake shows on the basketball court is now evident in the classroom as well.

Pride shows on his face as he rattles off his grades in earning a 3.6 GPA for the first quarter: "A, A, A, A, A, A, a B and a C."

And while delivering a thrilling, game-winning basket was special, he said it didn't compare to the day he brought home that report card to his mother.

"It was one of the best feelings I had in my life because I worked for it. I still have to work for it and know I have to push more to get even better," said Drake, who has a 2.3 cumulative GPA.

In the days and weeks after his brother's death, Drake was down and not sure he wanted to go back to school for his senior year. His mother provided an encouraging push.

"I had a very long talk with him and told him he had to stay strong and 'continue what you're doing, because everything you did, your brother looked up to you. He was proud of you and you're going to continue making him proud of you,'" she said.

Strong support from Lake Clifton also was vital, with Harried at the forefront.

A Dunbar graduate who earned a scholarship to Syracuse, Harried has preached life skills ahead of basketball in his 19 years coaching at Lake Clifton. He says developing young men takes priority over developing basketball players.

Drake has benefited. His goal is to play college ball, potentially for a Division II program, and he wants to become a nurse or a physical therapist.

"Coach Harried is one of the best persons in my life," he said. "Before basketball, it's all about school and if you get the school part right, we can go somewhere in the future."

Karen Starliper, a teacher in her fourth year at Lake Clifton, met Drake when he was a shy freshman in her English class and now works with him in a college prep program.

She has seen a resilience in Drake that she says is rare and rewarding. As he is in basketball, he's a leader in the classroom, knowing when it's time to have fun with classmates and when it's time to get serious.

How has he maintained that lighthearted silliness that helps make him who he is, while still handling everything else he's been through? Starliper is amazed.

"I think there's students that throughout a career make an impact on a teacher and it should be the opposite. But some kids have the ability to touch your heart and that's him," she said. "That's who he is as a person and the fact that that hasn't changed with his story, his experiences, it just speaks wonders about his character."

Answering the call

Drake says his family is doing well and has grown closer as they've dealt with their loss. He says his father, Dontaze Drake, who helped raise Hinton, has also been a strong influence.

Shauntaze Drake says he spends more time with his younger brother, is getting along better with his sister, and is trying to be a fine role model for his nephew.

"So he's becoming a little man," his mother says with a smile. "It scares me sometimes!"

Drake understands the responsibility, having taken what his brother told him to heart.

"Some choices, in the past, I really look at them and some were wrong," Drake said. "But now, I don't make no bad choices. When stuff is headed to me I always think about other people first. It's not just about me no more — it's about all the people around me."

Basketball is in perspective, but still important.

The Lakers are defending city champions and nearly won a state title last year, falling 55-51 to New Town. Drake wants another crack at a championship.

"We've got to keep putting in the work every day," he said. "I want a championship and I'm not going to rest or let my team be content with wins when there's still a lot of work left to do."

Spoken like a leader, one that would make his brother proud.

In the midst of the heaviest storm of his young life, Drake has remained steady, able to navigate with a reassuring calm. He has found the right path.

"I think this was a lesson from God," he said. "I don't know if it was meant to happen, but I know it just helped me a lot as a person and my maturity. It showed me a lot of things are important in life and how fast it can be taken away if you go the wrong route."

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