The New Jersey Nets will be moving to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 NBA season, and a local product hopes to join them.
Former Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, standout guard Sundiata Gaines has spent the entire season with the Nets coming off the bench. The 25-year-old will be a free agent following this season, and he said he hopes he can play for his hometown team.
Though he started playing basketball at age four while living in Jamaica, Queens, he spent the other half of his youth right in Fort Greene – the site of the Brooklyn Nets’ new home, the Barclays Center.
Gaines lived right across the street from Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and attended elementary school at Seven Day Adventist Church located just two blocks from the new arena.
“It would mean the world,” said Gaines of the possibility of playing in Brooklyn. “It’s my hometown. There’s a lot going on in Brooklyn.”
At Molloy, Gaines said he learned the values of discipline and staying focused. He played for the Stanners at a time when the CHSAA was just as competitive as it is today.
“It seemed like at least one player from every school went to a high Division I (college),” Gaines said. “At the time, it was probably one of the better leagues in the country.”
Each step of the way, Molloy’s legendary head basketball coach Jack Curran was there to guide Gaines in the right direction. Gaines said that Curran always stressed the fundamentals, and he still tries to employ those skills in his game.
“Being in the NBA, sometimes you tend to get away from your fundamentals and out of the realm that got you there,” Gaines said.
Curran remembers Gaines as a committed, competitive and responsible young man who excelled both in the classroom and on the basketball court. He said Gaines was “always there ready to go.”
Gaines played his first year at Molloy on the junior varsity team, since it’s very rare that Curran will pull an underclassman up to varsity right away. Though he wasn’t a starter his sophomore year, Gaines saw plenty of minutes for the varsity squad.
“As a basketball player, he was terrific,” Curran said. “He could score almost at will in high school. He had several games where he was up over 40 points.”
However, Curran realized that the other players looked up to Gaines as the top player on the court, so he always wanted his star guard to set a good example for his teammates.
“Sometimes, he (Curran) felt that I wasn’t pushing them (his teammates) to their max,” Gaines said. “Even though practice came easy for me, he still wanted me to be encouraging. If I didn’t do something right, he probably made me do some sprints.”
Gaines graduated Molloy in 2004 and was recruited to play at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. During his four years as a Bulldog, he averaged double-digit points per game each season and 5.5 assists per game for his career.
Despite these numbers, the six-one guard was not chosen in the 2008 NBA Draft. However, he said this gave him extra motivation since it was his dream to play in the NBA since the moment he picked up a basketball.
“All along, I felt I had the potential to be an NBA player,” Gaines said.
After playing professionally in Italy, Gaines finally got his chance to play in the NBA. He signed with the Utah Jazz midway through the 2009-10 season, but his playing time was limited.
Prior to the 2010-11 season, he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but once again, he was low on the team’s depth chart. He was waived in January 2011, but he immediately signed a 10-day contract with the Toronto Raptors. Though he earned a second 10-day contract, he was released shortly after.
The Nets took a chance on Gaines by signing him to a 10-day deal in late February 2011. Gaines’ energetic style and play-making ability left an impact on head coach Avery Johnson, so the team signed him to another 10-day contract.
He played so well as a primary reserve that the Nets locked him up to a two-year deal. He’s averaged 4.9 pts. and 2.2 assists in 13.2 minutes per game this season. He said he focuses on his defensive game while letting his teammates dictate the offensive pace.
“I’ve always been a pretty good offensive player, but out here, I try to think defense and get guys involved first and me last,” Gaines said.
With the impending free agency to Nets’ superstar point guard Deron Williams, there’s a chance the team will have a huge void to fill at that position. Gaines said he thinks he can step right in and run the team from the point.
“If the Nets look at me for the future, I’ll be ready,” he said. “But all I can control is what I do for the time that I’m on the court.”
Hopefully, the Brooklyn Nets’ management views Gaines as a viable option in the backcourt, since it would be such a thrill for a hometown boy to call the Barclays Center home.
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