Some say that the biggest disappointment in sports is losing in a championship game or finishing in second place. To have the feeling of success and glory at your fingertips only to let it slip through leaves a cavern of emptiness that seems, at the time, irreplaceable.
One may argue, however, along the famous tenet of, “it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,” that a player on a losing team suffers the most, through seemingly perpetual mediocrity and insignificance.
In the eyes of Nick Cantonwine, two unique perspectives arise that will define the rest of his basketball career and ultimately who he is as a person. He may choose to accept a role on a weak team with slim chances of success. More than likely, however, he will continue to do what his entire career has been founded upon, and display a work ethic complementary to a team that is bound to succeed.
While the transition from the high school game to the college level was not necessarily technically difficult for Cantonwine, the mental aspect has been somewhat of a significant barrier. Essentially, he went from a strong program accustomed to winning to one in the midst of development and restructuring.
“I got used to winning in high school,” Cantonwine said referring to a state tournament appearance and only nine combined losses between his junior and senior years. “I hadn’t been exposed to losing very much, but it has been very motivational.”
Despite the disappointing and at times frustrating results for the ‘Cats over the past two seasons, Cantonwine maintains a positive outlook and is eager to become a focal point in Linfield’s journey back to the top of the conference. “It really motivates you to work harder during practice and put in extra time shooting,” Cantonwine said of the Wildcats’ dismal 3-18 mark so far in 2012-13.
In head coach Larry Doty’s eyes, Cantonwine is doing just that. “Nick has a good work ethic and has shown maturation both physically and mentally,” Doty said. “He already understands what he needs to do in order to be successful, which is often times the biggest learning curve for young players.”
If numbers are any indication of Cantonwine’s future, there is no doubt he has put two feet forward in the right direction. He is among the team leaders in points per game (5.8), shooting percentage (.402) and free throw percentage (.814), and has seen action in all 21 games thus far. “Scoring has always been his forte, as he was the state’s 3A leading scorer in high school,” Doty said.
Cantonwine has always been gifted athletically; his reputation as a first-team all-state athlete precedes him. “I have been playing since first grade, and I also played football and baseball growing up,” he remembered.
Cantonwine’s natural ability when it comes to basketball is in large part thanks to the connection his family has with the sport. “My dad was my coach a lot growing up and I really looked up to him,” the guard mentioned when asked about his influences. The sense of family is visibly present when Cantonwine is on the court as well, as he wears the No. 5 jersey in honor of his older sister’s basketball and volleyball days.
The connection between Cantonwine and Linfield runs deep. His basketball coach at Blanchet Catholic School, Jon Tromblay, was a Wildcat of the class of 1985. “Coach Tromblay was definitely one of my main role models throughout high school,” Cantonwine said.
“Nick never missed a practice, game or team meeting in the four years I had him,” Tromblay said. “I have coached 35 teams in different sports over 20 years and I have never had an individual who displayed that much commitment.”
In addition to internal role models drawn from familial and scholastic ties, Cantonwine has sought guidance directly and indirectly from outside influences as well. “My favorite athlete is Kobe Bryant, and last year Zach Anderson was someone I really looked up to in terms of leadership,” he said. “This year, everybody has been positive and encouraging collectively both as a team and a coaching staff as well.”
As the season winds down and reason for doubt and disappointment arise, Cantonwine chooses to shed positive light on the program and the opportunity for improvement. “Our goal was to contend for the playoffs and that hasn’t happened, but I really wanted to focus on doing the things I do well to help the team out and win,” Cantonwine reflected on Linfield’s 2012-13 campaign.
While the team goal must be shelved until next December, Cantonwine’s development this season did not go unnoticed. “He was a little too predictable at first, but now he has developed confidence in many areas and has become more of a complete offensive player,” Doty explained.
As he completes his sophomore year at Linfield, the history major already has a rough outline of what his future holds. “I’d like to work for my dad and brother in our family lumber distribution company.”
“Nick has always been polite and has interacted well with others, and I have no doubt he will be successful in life,” Tromblay said.
While the ‘Cats will not experience the ultimate glory of hoisting a NWC Championship trophy this season, they also will not feel the intense pain associated with finishing second. Rather, they will play out the final four games on their schedule and could choose to head into the offseason with blank faces and passive disappointment. But for players like Cantonwine, this is simply not an option. “You will always remember when you went 5-20, and it really forces you to put in time working so you don’t feel that way again.”
With his commitment to hard work and improvement, and his motivational words of wisdom, Cantonwine has blossomed into a building block Linfield can trust in for future success.
-- Evan O'Kelly '13