Kai Shinholster impacts Penn Charter and college coaches take notice.

Confused as to why the film’s protagonist, Neo, held out instead of fleeing as the villain closed in on his position, one character asked, “What is he doing?”

The response, “He’s beginning to believe,” marked a turning point in the 1999 classic film The Matrix and spelled doom for his opponents.

Penn Charter sophomore Kai Shinholster certainly doesn’t feel like The One, but his growing confidence coupled with his skills on the basketball court likely puts him higher on college coach wish lists.

The Quakers are undefeated (7-0) and last week Shinholster caused a stir after a string of top performances.

On Friday he finished the Friends’ Central with 16 points. On Saturday against Archbishop Wood – in a game with at least four Division I players – Shinholster hit a game-high 28 points in an overtime win that came from an ambush.

“I get recognition from [college] coach already,” Shinholster said this week in an office on Penn Charter’s East Falls campus, “but I really want it to skyrocket.”

For 16-year-old Shinholster, his close-knit family, supportive teammates and trusted coaches appear to be the village tasked with helping the rising star navigate a potentially reckless recruitment process and boosting the confidence that once eluded him .

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Now a 6ft 4 wing with a smooth shot lift and Thanks to the ability to score multiple goals, Shinholster was once just a novice, shooting on the spot and passively waiting on the edge for his teammates to fire shots for him.

His putback dunk just before halftime in last week’s 65-62 win at Friends’ Central underlined a new, more aggressive player.

“I always knew I had what it took,” he said, “but even in middle school, it took a long time for me to have the confidence to shoot hard shots.”

Raised in Swedesboro, NJ, where his family still resides, Shinholster says he always played against older competitors.

He was young for his age group, so at times he felt like a seventh year who should have been in sixth year but was playing eighth years. As a result, he sometimes found contentment in the background.

Driveway fights against his older brother Trey, a senior forward at Penn Charter, honed his skills at home, but they traveled nowhere else.

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“He used to have confidence when he played me,” said Trey Shinholster, “but when he came on the pitch, he was a little hesitant.”

A growth spurt during the pandemic was starting to change things.

Shinholster was about 5ft 8 when COVID-19 first struck the country. The next school year, he was a 6-3 freshman who played well in practice but still didn’t bring the same panache to games.

“I would turn down shots because I didn’t have the confidence,” he said. “I left games with maybe three or four shots throughout the game and that wasn’t good enough for the player I wanted to be.”

Last year Shinholster, who just turned 16 in October, reclassified and repeated his freshman year. The move, he believes, has helped him mature.

He was a starter on last year’s team that shared the Inter-Ac title with Malvern Prep.

“Some might say I wasn’t as confident as I am now,” he said, “but I made recordings that I wouldn’t have thought of doing in my freshman year. It was definitely an advantage to reclassify this year.”

At the start of this season, confidence became the main question.

Penn Charter coach Dave Bass, who took over after John Owens, the former Quakers coach, joined the women’s coaching staff as an assistant at UMass Lowell in November, knew what he had in Shinholster.

The question was how to find out.

“Before the Wood game, I said to him, ‘You have to be more confident, more aggressive and more willing to shoot earlier,'” Bass said.

The freshman coach had noticed that Shinholster mostly scored late in games and sent the senior early.

The team’s leader, Mark Butler, is a 6-foot point guard who signed for Lafayette in October. Butler is one of several seniors the younger Shinholster has admired since middle school.

As a result, taking a back seat can be quite natural.

This is what Chris Harris, an AAU coach at K-Low Elite, has agreed to.

“He played with really good players,” Harris said in a phone interview. “Early last summer he bowed to these guys. But in July he became more aggressive.”

Harris added, “I told him, ‘It’s time to let the city know you’re here.'”

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Shinholster’s first scholarship offer came from Hofstra. Next up was Robert Morris, followed by the University of Texas at El Paso. A boost in confidence was not long in coming.

“When he’s confident, he’s more aggressive,” his father Rick Shinholster said. “When he’s confident, it also looks like he’s having a lot of fun.”

Last week against Wood, Shinholster hit a late three-pointer that finally eliminated the Vikings.

Immediately afterwards, he let out a guttural yell, pumped both fists and celebrated with his teammates.

Earlier in that game, he was stripped of the ball while attempting to score. It was the kind of game, he said, that would have shaken his confidence in the past.

“I remember thinking for a moment, ‘Let’s just sit in the corner.’ But then I realized, ‘No, I’m a good player. I can do this, so I have to keep going,'” Shinholster said.

Rick Shinholster, 54, was born and raised in Philadelphia, graduated from Central High School in 1986 and played for legendary college coach Herb Magee at Jefferson University when it was still known as Philadelphia Textile.

He also coaches youth basketball and has been associated with this world for decades. He also can’t stand stupidity when it comes to his children.

Following last week’s exploits, he said his son had attracted unwanted attention online.

“All of a sudden, adults were messaging him on Instagram,” he said over the phone, “and talking to him like they knew him.”

He also said a couple of high school coaches called to see if his son was interested in a transfer. He’s not, said Rick Shinholster.

“I think with Kai getting all this fanfare,” he said, “we’re just going to keep supporting him and he trusts us to steer him in the right direction and keep the vultures away.”

In fact, before his son was interviewed by The Inquirer, Rick Shinholster said his wife Katie googled the reporter, found his photo online and searched for any other information she could find. Then they called Bass to find out more.

Both have instructed their son to let them know if an adult contacts him. “Because I don’t want the wrong person to talk to Kai or to go in his ear and start feeding him nonsense,” said Rick Shinholster. “That’s our duty of care as parents.”

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College coaches, high school coaches poaching players, and the possibility of name, image, and likeness deals give the protective father pause.

It’s still unclear what level of the college basketball program his son will aim for.

Before K-Low Elite, Harris, who is from Queens, NY and coached AAU basketball on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball Circuit, watched current NBA star Devin Booker play in high school. Harris sees similarities between Booker and Shinholster when Booker was in high school.

Trey also believes his younger brother isn’t done growing up yet. Getting bigger could attract even more colleges. Harris, 32, says Shinholster may eventually attract interest and offers from Power 5 schools.

“But I think for Kai,” said Harris, who is also an assistant athletic director at Cristo Rey High School, “it doesn’t matter what level. It’s going to be about the fit. We place so much value on level when it comes to fit.”

Shinholster’s father agrees.

“Education is my number one priority at home,” he says. “Education comes first; We happen to play basketball.”

His eldest son has a variety of academic options for college and is hoping basketball opportunities will arise as well. His youngest is focused on staying confident, having fun and maintaining a positive attitude.

On Tuesday night, the Quakers outlasted La Salle by 41:34. The Explorers’ methodical pace stifled Penn Charter’s typically fast offense. Shinholster finished with eight points. He also missed a dunk in traffic in the second half. He wasn’t discouraged by the miss. Neither does his father.

“This is the first time he’s tried that,” said Rick Shinholster. “That means his confidence is really up there where he feels like he can do anything and everything that’s awesome.”

Occasionally, his son’s inner monologue reinforces what he feels is important to his success.

“I find myself saying, ‘We worked for this,'” Shinholster said. “I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today, so it’s not like I’m unprepared. “We worked for it.” That’s something my father says to me. “We worked for it.”

“And when I’m not telling myself,” Shinholster continued, “I can hear my father screaming from the stands.”

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