Home­com­ing for Gaines is a tri­umphant af­fair

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Miguel Ro­driguez

Be­fore Har­grave Mil­i­tary Academy’s Davonte Gaines turned in for the night at his mother’s home fol­low­ing Satur­day’s over­time win, his mom Denise Leonard ad­mits her son was still feel­ing pretty ex­cited after the game.

That’s be­cause the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee com­mit via Health Sciences Char­ter School, pro­vided the ul­ti­mate high­light dur­ing his Home­com­ing week­end at Villa Maria Col­lege with Har­grave dur­ing the Corey Gra­ham Can-Am Prep Bas­ket­ball Show­case.

With the fi­nal sec­onds tick­ing off in over­time of a tied game be­tween Har­grave and Thorn­lea Prep, fans ea­gerly waited for point guard Gio­vanni San­ti­ago to make a play – whether it’s drive, pass or shoot.

San­ti­ago pa­tiently drib­bled and drib­bled be­cause the play was called had broke down. He waited for some­thing to de­velop un­til some­one took the ini­tia­tive to save the day. That some­one turned out to the home­town guy, Gaines.

After notic­ing his back-side de­fender was pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the bounc­ing ball than him, the 6-foot-8 Gaines broke from the left cor­ner be­hind the three-point line to­ward the bas­ket. In an in­stant, the pass was in Gaines’ grasp as he hit the open layup with 1.3 sec­onds left to give Har­grave the

62-60 win.

Wel­come home, “Ticket!”

“As I cut, I knew he was giv­ing me the ball there,” said Gaines, who fin­ished with 15 points. “This is a big deal, com­ing back to where I’m from, play­ing be­fore fam­ily and friends and hit­ting the game-win­ner just put the ic­ing on the cake.

“It’s just a great feel­ing be­cause (this week­end) is prob­a­bly my last time play­ing here on a team.”

That is un­less Ten­nessee plays one of the Big 4 teams in Western New York or makes it to the NCAA Tour­na­ment when Buf­falo is host­ing the first round dur­ing Gaines’ time in Knoxville, Tenn.

Gaines may have turned a bro­ken play into some­thing, but his mom has seen enough of his games that she knew he’s go­ing to get the ball in the end.

“I’ve seen the look in his eyes,” Leonard said. “I knew he was get­ting the ball. I was ex­cited. I saw him set­ting him up.”

“That’s what type of player Ticket is,” said Ty Parker, who coached Gaines from age 10 through the end of his ca­reer at Health Sciences. “He lives for the big mo­ment. He has that ‘it’ fac­tor. For me that was the most ex­cit­ing part of (the event). I coached him and we have a great re­la­tion­ship. I was happy to see him get that gamewin­ning bas­ket.”

While Leonard has seen her son play road games with Har­grave and plans to see as many Ten­nessee Vols games as pos­si­ble, Har­grave was in­vited to the event so that oth­ers close to Gaines could come out and see him per­form on the court in per­son.

They saw the same un­selfish lad who led Health Sciences to back-to­back state fi­nal fours, a player more con­cerned with mak­ing the cor­rect bas­ket­ball play than try­ing to put up big in­di­vid­ual scor­ing to­tals.

Gaines sent his fans home happy Sun­day by play­ing his usual steady game in Har­grave’s 70-52 win over Vaughan Prep (Ont.). He fin­ished with seven points, had a few re­bounds and four as­sists in roughly 20 min­utes of ac­tion.

Gaines’ goal was to get phys­i­cally stronger and pre­pare for the rig­ors of play­ing bas­ket­ball in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence. Coach Lee Martin said he’s de­vel­op­ing quite well.

“He’s done an in­cred­i­ble job in the weight room,” Martin said. “He still has a ways to go, but has built a foun­da­tion. He’s gained 10-12 pounds. When he goes to Ten­nessee he’ll look like a dif­fer­ent per­son.”

Gaines spent his fi­nal night of three in Buf­falo at the team ho­tel Sun­day as Har­grave was slated for an early de­par­ture Mon­day. While shar­ing a ho­tel room with three team­mates as op­posed to en­joy­ing the lux­u­ries of home served as an of­fi­cial sign that his Home­com­ing was over, the life mem­o­ries will live on – along with his high­light-reel mo­ment.

“Play­ing in front of fam­ily and friends was just a bless­ing,” Gaines said.

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

Har­grave Mil­i­tary Academy’s Davonte Gaines scores two points dur­ing his team’s win Sun­day.

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

Davonte Gaines of Har­grave Mil­i­tary Academy is fouled by Vaughan Prep’s Wazir Lat­iff in the sec­ond quar­ter.

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