Gateway Christian boys basketball team has made it back to the playoffs, again for the second consecutive year. Coach Dan Smith has made a difference and emphasized fundamentals. Once again, the Warriors came up short in winning a district title in the regular season but look to the bigger picture of winning a state title.
Their journey starts on Saturday at home at 6 p.m. The Warriors finished the season 18-8, and now have to play a tough Elida team for the fourth time this season. In their first meeting on Jan. 29, they defeated Elida at home, 57-43. In their second meeting, Gateway Christian lost a hard-fought, 62-59 in overtime. In the district tournament, the Warriors won 47-41 at home.
“Elida is more than capable of beating us,” Smith said. “It’s tough to play a team four times. That’s the thing you have to get young men used to — just because you beat a team twice out of three times doesn’t mean they won’t come in here and beat us.”
This is a game that has a lot of implications for the Warriors. By winning against them, it will mean another trip to the quarterfinals. Gateway Christian coach Smith knows they will have to rebound, rebound and rebound some more. In the game they lost in overtime, they were beaten on the boards. Elida will run a 1-4 high offense and do some side pick-and-rolls. Tough nose team.
Gateway Christian cannot afford to get into foul trouble — they will need senior Jaydon Stephens to be able to score on the ball, off the ball from the outside and in the lane. When Stephens gets hot, he opens up opportunities for the mad bomber Joe Waide. Waide is the district I version of Tarren Burrola and is able to catch and shoot from the three-point line as well as anybody in Chaves County.
“Jaydon Stephens is the heart and soul of the team,” Smith said. “He (Stephens) will give you everything he has. He works daily and does as much as he can and plus some. He’s a kid you just love to coach.”
Defense is going to be the key to the Warriors’ state playoff run — they will rely on Wyatt Arlet and his presence on defense. Gateway wants to use its defense to trigger their fast break. In games when their offense was missing this season, it was the Warriors’ defense that kept them in games. For the seniors this season, this is their last chance to avenge a tough exit from last season when they lost to Magdalena, 60-51 in the quarterfinals.
“Every year we have been blessed,” Smith said. “Hopefully we have taken something from the state tournament whether it’s nerves or learning something different. Last year we had a game plan set up. I know we didn’t execute as well as we’d have liked to have done, and that cost us a few baskets. I just think last year we had a tough night and that happens.”
Coach Smith has improved his team and record each season — he has been a coach in his third season. Smith is a basketball junkie when his team is not playing — he will go to other local high school games and see if he can learn from other coaches. He will DVR games in the college and NBA games as well. Smith tries to think about strategy with other coaches.
“When I watch the NBA games,” Smith said, “I’m always evaluating how they put their best players into the best positions to be successful. I’m thinking all the time, trying to get better and improve my craft as a coach.”
Smith feels like the kids he coaches are his family as well. He is not into coaching to win a Blue Trophy — he wants to win, but it’s not his sole purpose for coaching. Smith’s goal is to instill good fundamentals, technique and good morals and values in them. It does him good when the former kids he has coached have come back to him and told him, “Thank you for showing me the proper way to hit a jump shot.”
“I love working with kids,” Smith said, “that hasn’t changed. I’m very good at teaching kids how to shoot when I see kids shoot with good technique and I taught them, it brings me joy. It’s a cool feeling seeing kids improve. I truly believe I’m here because of God. I believe God opens and closes doors.”
The Warriors are 9-1 at home this season and it is down to a one-game season. For Gateway Christian, the next step to advancing to the Blue Trophy is the first step in defeating Elida on Saturday night.
“My high point this season is seeing the growth in these kids this year,” Smith said.
Gateway Christian will play Elida at 6 p.m. Saturday at home.