For years, Shane Gatling had been one of the best players on his basketball team.
He became a star for Baldwin as a sophomore, improved as a junior and led the Bruins to the Long Island Class AA title as a senior.
But from his commitment to Niagara in May until a few days before the Purple Eagles’ season opener in November, a cloud of uncertainty hung over his head.
“[Coach Chris Casey] wasn’t sure if he wanted to redshirt me or not,” Gatling said. “I was going along with it, but in the back of my mind I was going to work hard. I wanted to make him put me in the game.”
As a redshirt, Gatling would have sat out the 2016-17 season while maintaining another four years of eligibility. The pro: he would have been able to graduate in four years and spend the fifth year pursuing a master’s degree. The con: he would not have scored 13 points in Niagara’s 74-58 upset of Iona on Dec. 4.
Casey’s last-minute decision against a redshirt seems to have paid off. Gatling is averaging 5.8 points in 13 minutes per game. He is shooting 46.7 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from deep and 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Beginning with Iona, Gatling has averaged 12 points and 24.7 minutes as the Purple Eagles have gone 2-1 in their last three games. They will visit LIU Brooklyn on Dec. 21.
“I did expect him to have an impact, and I think he’s going to continue to have an impact,” Casey said. “Shane can really score the ball and he can shoot the ball and that’s something that we needed to add to our team.”
Before the Iona game, Gatling had played more than 10 minutes just once and Niagara began the season 1-6. He scored 11 points in 22 minutes of an 82-78 overtime loss at Hartford.
“I just kept working hard in practice and waiting for my number to be called,” Gatling said. “[Casey] is always telling us you never know when your button is going to be pushed.”
Former Long Island Lutheran standout and Niagara sophomore Marvin Prochet helped keep Gatling’s spirits up, and Casey noticed Gatling’s hard work and began pushing his button more frequently.
“His increase in minutes has been due to his performance,” Casey said. “We have a number of new guys that we’re throwing into the fray, and part of the early season is trying to figure out who can give you what. He’s performed pretty well, and as he continues to perform better — which I believe he will — he’s going to get even more increased minutes.”
This is new territory for Gatling, needing to prove himself. But he has accepted the challenge.
“I was always one of the best players on the team,” Gatling said. “I never sat on the bench before, but I know I have to learn to come off the bench and accept that I’m not one of the best but I can still help the team.”