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The IPFW men's basketball program has spent the past five months proving to any critics that it was a legitimately good program and capable of playing with virtually any team at the collegiate level.
Former Mastodons great Frank Gaines has also spent the past five months proving to any critics that he is a legitimately good player and is capable of contributing on the court at virtually any level.
Gaines is wrapping up an incredibly successful rookie season in the NBA Development League with the Maine Red Claws, and his success has surprised many, with the exception of himself. He returned to Memorial Coliseum on Thursday to face the Mad Ants and scored 23 points (on 7-of-14 shooting) in a 122-108 loss.
“I knew that it wasn't going to be that tough of a transition,” Gaines said. “Apparently, everybody else thought that it would be. Once I got the chance, I knew that I was going to deliver.”
He's “delivered” more offensively (22 points per game) than any rookie in the league who hasn't been assigned by an NBA club, and more than all but four other players overall.
“In my opinion, he's the Rookie of the Year in this league,” Red Claws coach Mike Taylor said. “He's a natural shot maker and he plays both ends of the floor very well. He's very coachable and has been great for our staff to work with. He's showed a maturity and a natural ability to play the game at a high level.”
But how high exactly? NBA high? A guy from IPFW? Really?
“His goal is to reach the NBA,” Taylor said. “That's going to be an interesting challenge. (With) his size (6-foot-2) and skill set, if he could find a place where he can do well, I believe in him. I think he has all of the potential and talent in the world. I really believe great things are ahead for him.”
Maine wraps up its season today with a game at Iowa, but that doesn't end Gaines' basketball mission. He will fly to Venezuela on Sunday and begin a “couple of months” season for a team there with a game Tuesday.
Taylor and the Maine leadership believed in Gaines early and that is why they drafted him in the second round last November. But the growth in Gaines' game has been a very pleasant surprise for the team.
Taylor said Gaines began the season as his “third or fourth” option, but Gaines is finishing the year as the best offensive option.
“He's our go-to guy,” Taylor said. “He's really developing and it's come natural to him. The big thing for him is to work on all aspects of his game, specifically his play-making on pick-and-rolls, and his passing, just some of the skills needed to complement his scoring.”
Gaines was a much more aggressive driver as he became IPFW's all-time leading scorer last season, but in the D-League, he is mostly a spot-up shooter. Taylor and Gaines both would like to see him, not so much become a scoring point guard, but become a threat with the ball aside from just shooting.
Taylor has spent more than a decade coaching in the Czech Republic, Germany and England, and was recently named to lead the Polish national team, so he is very familiar with the level of talent throughout Europe. He has confidence in Gaines' ability to pursue his NBA dreams, but he is adamant that Gaines will make money for a long time if he chooses to compete in Europe.
“There's no question,” Taylor said. “His goal and what he is aiming for is the NBA, but there is no doubt that he can be a high, high-level European player and enjoy a great career and life experiences overseas.”
The former IPFW star has lit up the NBA D-League this season. Here is how the rookie fared statistically.
Points: 22 per game (5th in the league)
Rebounds: 3.7 per game
Assists: 1.5 per game
3-point shooting: 40.9 percent (20th in league)
Career night: He scored 47 points against Delaware last month
Red Claw legend: Gaines tied team records for 3-pointers made (8) in a single game and free throws made (17) in a single game