Like many high school basketball players, a year away from actual competitive games, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, left Monsignor McClancy High School combo guard Jaidenblake Gaston a little rusty.
Sure, Gaston worked out with his dad, Blake, who is the coach of the freshman team, during the time off. But he said his in-game condition was not the same.
To make matters more challenging, Gaston played for the first time in a long time with his Aim High Eagles AAU 16U team, which only had five players on it, and competed in the 17U bracket.
Therefore, every Eagle had to play every minute of each of the four contests in its tournament in Orlando, Fla., this past summer.
Unfortunately, to add another challenge to the fold, the 5-11, 162-pounder rolled his ankle in one of the games, hobbling him to some degree. No worries, as he drained 40 points in a tilt against a Jacksonville, Fla., squad, and scored nearly 30 points in another contest.
Gaston relied on his long-range jumper to rack up points since he could not leap and drive to basket like he has been accustomed.
Though Gaston did a lot of things well on the hardwood in Orlando, he is well aware of what he needs to improve upon in order to reach new hoops heights.
“I feel I can improve on everything, especially my conditioning. But I can become a better leader,” Gaston said. “I was tired, and my teammates were all tired, but I played through that and the pain.”
He said he did not want to give into any of the physical setbacks, and kept soldiering on, even though he was gassed and not physically 100 percent. That is a true mark of an athlete leading by example.
Presently, Gaston is working out with his Crusaders team as they get ready for the upcoming Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) campaign.
With top talent New York City Catholic League programs such as Christ the King, Molloy, and St. Francis Prep, it is easy for McClancy to get lost in the shuffle. But Gaston is confident the Crusaders will fair well because he knows his teammates abilities due to playing with various members over the last few years.
“The team we have right now, we have been playing together for around three or four years (in AAU),” he said. “We’re going to be good this year.”
Gaston said he is not getting too far ahead of himself recruiting-wise at the moment, but he would love to play on the college ranks when the time comes.
“Jaiden is a very solid guard with a quick first step and tremendous feel for getting defenders to foul him on drives. He showcased his soft touch on a variety of finishes around the rim. Off the ball, he displayed his high basketball IQ by cutting and setting screens for his teammates.”
As far as defensively, he said, “I’m a better off better off-ball defender. I read passing lanes really well, and pickoff the ball.”
Additionally, Gaston noted that he is working on his jumping abilities and rebounding skills. Plus, he feels his outside shot deserves more recognition. But, more importantly, after year of virtual learning, he said he is back to pulling better grades.
“I’m just trying to improve my grades,” Gaston said. “It was really hard for me to adjust to it (online learning). But I’m getting better grades now. I need to be in the classroom. I learn better that way.”
— Jerry Del Priore