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Health Sciences basketball star Gaines verbally commits to Tennessee

While the 7-1-6 has produced its share of big-time Division I men's basketball players, it's still rare when a Western New York talent not only earns an offer from a program in a major Division I conference but also makes a commitment to such an institution two years prior to enrollment.

Then again, Davonte Gaines isn't a run-of-the-mill talent.

The lanky 6-foot-7 Health Sciences star and second team All-Western New York selection has the ball-handling skills of a point guard, can shoot the three and has shown the leaping ability and length to play inside and protect the rim.

The lad nicknamed 'The Ticket' has big-time skills, which is why he has accepted an offer from a big-time suitor in Tennessee.

Gaines, a junior who has been reclassified as Class of 2019, told The News early Saturday afternoon that he's verbally committing to the Southeastern Conference program. The first-team All-State Class B pick chose the Vols' offer over those from Rhode Island, Kent State, Hampton, Monmouth, University at Buffalo, Canisius and Niagara. He averaged 17.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.0 blocks and 3.0 steals in helping the Falcons win their first Section VI championship in program history and reach the state final four.

"I believe this is a good opportunity for me," Gaines said. "I didn't know I'd land something this big. Last year I had one offer (from Monmouth). I didn't really think I'd have a chance to play in the SEC. I never thought of it. I have to continue to stay humble and playing the way I've been playing and hope things work out."

Gaines participated in a Vols basketball camp -- his first at a major conference school -- a couple weeks ago in Knoxville. The team's coaching staff, which includes Buffalo's Rob Lanier (Mount St. Joseph Academy) -- the former St. Bonaventure and Niagara assistant and Siena head coach, made him an offer before he returned home, according to Gaines. Rick Barnes is head coach of Tennessee. Division I coaches are prohibited from commenting on recruits until after they have signed their letters of intent.

Gaines did not accept right away as he attended a basketball camp at Rhode Island last weekend, receiving an offer from the Rams, before announcing his decision Saturday.

"I feel like they're going to take care of me if I go down there," Gaines said.

The last Western New York talent to earn a scholarship to a basketball program in a major conference was 2016 Park graduate Jordan Nwora. He attended prep school last season and committed to Louisville of the ACC in October.

There have been several others who honed their basketball skills in the area who have earned chances to play for schools in what are considered major conferences – including Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famers Curtis Aiken (Bennett and Pittsburgh), Willie 'Hutch' Jones (Bishop Turner/Vanderbilt), Cliff Robinson (Riverside/Connecticut) and Christian Laettner (Nichols/Duke).

Committing two years ahead of enrollment rarely happens with Western New York products and was fairly uncommon back in their day – when the actual signing date was the big deal (and often the big reveal). The verbal commitment has since become part of the recruiting process.

It is believed that the last area talent to commit to a major basketball program with at least two years notice was future NBA Lottery pick Jonny Flynn, who accepted an offer from Syracuse prior to his junior season at Niagara Falls in 2005.

"It's huge for the area," said Health Sciences coach Ty Parker. "Committing with two years left (to prepare for college) is major. It's a great accomplishment for him. ... To commit to a school in a power conference like the SEC .... I'm just happy for him. The sky's the limit.

"It's a testament that if you work hard in the classroom and on the court that good things will happen."

Gaines has experience playing all five positions on the court -- which helped make a talented Health Sciences team such a tough out during last year's postseason.

"His upside is incredible," said Parker, who first dubbed Gaines the 'Ticket' as a 10-year-old after coaching him in an AAU game. "He can handle the ball, he can shoot it. He has a high basketball IQ. To play at that level you have to have a high IQ and be efficient."

Gaines does need to add some bulk to his 165-pound frame, according to Parker. Gaines has a personal trainer and few other area coaches who have competed at a high level in college and professionally also helping him prepare to make the jump. Gaines also has time on his side -- one more season at Health Sciences and another at a to-be-determined prep school -- where he can not only get physically stronger but continue honing his special skills.

Gaines also knows he will have to work harder now than he already has to reach this point. He understands he'll have to play at his best each time he hits the court from now on because verbally committing to any Division I program comes with responsibility -- and a bull's-eye.

"People are going to play a lot harder against me," Gaines said. "I have to bring my 'A game' all the time and just continue playing the way I've been playing that got me the scholarship."

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