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Davonte Gaines rises to the moment during his Homecoming Weekend

Before Hargrave Military Academy’s Davonte Gaines turned in for the night at his mother’s home following Saturday’s overtime win, his mom Denise Leonard admits her son was still feeling pretty excited after the game.

That’s because Gaines, the University of Tennessee commit via Health Sciences Charter School, provided the ultimate highlight during his Homecoming weekend at Villa Maria College with Hargrave during the Corey Graham Can-Am Prep Basketball Showcase.

With the final seconds ticking off in overtime of a tied game between Hargrave and Thornlea Prep, fans eagerly waited for point guard Giovanni Santiago to make a play – whether it’s drive, pass or shoot.

Santiago patiently dribbled and dribbled because the play that had been called already broke down in its tracks. He waited for something to develop until someone took the initiative to save the day. That someone turned out to the hometown guy, Gaines.

After noticing his back-side defender was paying more attention to the bouncing ball than him, the 6-foot-8 Gaines broke from the left corner behind the three-point line toward the basket. In an instant, the pass was in Gaines’ grasp as he hit the open layup with 1.3 seconds left that gave his team the 62-60 win.

Welcome home, ‘Ticket!’

“As I cut I knew he was giving me the ball there,” said Gaines, who finished that game with 15 points. “This is a big deal, coming back to where I’m from playing before family and friends and hitting the game-winner just put the icing on the cake.

“It’s just a great feeling because (this weekend) is probably my last time playing here on a team.”

That is unless Tennessee plays one of the Big 4 teams in Western New York or makes it to the NCAA Tournament when Buffalo is hosting the first round during Gaines’ time in Knoxville, Tenn.

Gaines may have turned a broken play into something, but his mom has seen enough of his games that she knew he’s going to get the ball in the end.

“I’ve seen the look in his eyes,” Leonard said. “I knew he was getting the ball. I was excited. I saw him setting him up.”

“That’s what type of player Ticket is,” said Ty Parker, who coached Gaines from age 10 through the end of his Health Sciences career last spring. “He lives for the big moment. He has that ‘it’ factor. For me that was the most exciting part of (the event). I coached him and we have a great relationship. I was happy to see him get that game-winning basket.”

While Leonard has seen her son play road games with Hargrave and plans to see as many Tennessee Vols games as possible, Hargrave was invited to the event so that others close to Gaines could come out and see him perform on the court in person.

They saw the same unselfish lad who led Health Sciences to back to back state final fours, a player more concerned with making the correct basketball play than trying to put up big individual scoring totals.

Gaines sent his fans home happy Sunday by playing his usual steady game in Hargrave’s 70-52 win over Vaughan Prep (Ont.). He finished with seven points, had a few rebounds and four assists in roughly 20 minutes of action.

Gaines’ goal was to get physically stronger and prepare for the rigors of playing basketball in the Southeastern Conference. Coach Lee Martin said he’s developing quite well averaging 14 points, six rebounds and three assists per game.

“He’s done an incredible job in the weight room,” Martin said. “He still has a ways to go, but has built a foundation. He’s gained 10-12 pounds. When he goes to Tennessee he’ll look like a different person.”

Gaines spent his final night of three in Buffalo at the team hotel Sunday as Hargrave is slated for an early departure Monday. While sharing a hotel room with three teammates as opposed to enjoying the luxuries of home served as an official sign that his Homecoming was over, the life memories will live on – along with his highlight-reel moment.

“Playing in front of family and friends was just a blessing,” Gaines said.

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