After landing a six-man class in 2014 and with only two scholarships scheduled to open after this season, the 2015 class was always going to be a small one for Xavier. Couple that with a weak talent pool nationally and a few top targets with early Xavier interest committing, and Chris Mack’s staff casted a much narrower net in its recruiting efforts than usual.
Entering the summer grassroots basketball season, it was clear that the Musketeers had really set their sights on landing one of two types of players – a versatile forward to continue the trend of stockpiling overall size and skill, or a true big.
Wednesday afternoon Chris Mack and his staff landed the former, as Kaiser Gates committed to be the first and possibly only member of Xavier’s 2015 class. Gates averaged a double-double - 14.4 points per game, 10 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 29 games - as a junior last year while helping lead his St. Francis High School team in Alpharetta, Georgia to a Class A private school state title.
Gates is one of three high-major Division-I recruits playing for St. Francis. Point guard Kobi Simmons is the No. 8 ranked player in the 2016 class, and 60th ranked 2015 shooting guard Malik Beasley is committed to Florida State.
Without a very specific known need for the 2015 class, adding versatility made sense for the Musketeers. At 6-foot-7 (at least) with good length and athleticism, Gates is a combo-forward who should be able to do just that.
He joins a Xavier roster that already has a pair of talented 6-foot-6 wings in Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, and should only enhance the interchangeability and skill of a team that already upgraded in both categories with its 2014 class. Like Bluiett and Macura, the most notable quality of Gates’ game is his shooting and well-rounded offensive skill-set.
Because of his refined offensive game, he always looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. The game seems to come natural for him. He likes to spend his time on the perimeter, spacing for an open three, but he has the handle to make plays off the bounce and get where he needs to go as well. He’s more of a smooth athlete that glides when he runs the floor than an explosive one, but he does have the lift to finish above the rim with highlight dunks. He has solid form on his jump shot, and he repeats it consistently. He also seems to prefer shooting from the top of the key or the high wing on either wide, and can do so with plenty of range. Particularly at the Adidas Top 100 Camp setting, he showed vision and precision when passing, an underrated part of his game.
One of the values of having a bigger player with offensive skills is the way they can help your team transition from offense to defense. Grabbing a defensive rebound and being able to push it with a breakout dribble or seeing the floor well enough to make an advance pass are two areas where Gates should excel for Xavier. When it comes to rebounding, he shows good instincts and can produce at both ends. More consistent effort and toughness in the paint will be a point of emphasis for his improvement when he arrives on campus. A year in the weight room should really help him in that regard. He seems to have a special nose for the ball on the offensive glass.
What decides whether or not you’re a combo forward is your ability to guard both the three and the four spots. Gates will likely play both positions and guard both throughout his career, though he’s not a standout defender. Right now, he looks to defend bigger post players better than wings. When defending opposing fours, he would certainly be able to get out and jump ball screens the way Xavier likes to. He has some upside on defense because of his physical tools, particularly his length.
Chris Mack will have a roster next season that includes Jalen Reynolds, James Farr, Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Makinde London and now Gates, giving him a ton of options to play at the three, four and five positions. He also has some flexibility in the backcourt with guys like Remy Abell and Edmond Sumner who have size and can play multiple spots. The added size and versatility of the 2014 recruiting class has already made the court feel smaller, the lane more crowded and the team more imposing just a week into practice. Continuing that trend with the addition of Gates makes sense.
With Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook both graduating, Gates will fill one of the two vacant scholarships for next year. As of right now the Musketeers are likely to pocket the second one, which could be used for a transfer or an extra 2016 scholarship in a class with better talent. That’s certainly subject to change, though, just like everything else in recruiting.