YOUNGSTOWN – Roddy Gayle considered leaving Lewiston-Porter for a prep school over the summer in hopes of capturing the attention of major Division I men’s college basketball recruiters. However, he had a good reason to stay.
There’s still no place like home for Gayle.
Although Gayle stands a manly 6 feet, 3 inches, and still growing, he’s a sophomore in high school. He’s just a kid who enjoys being around his family and friends. More importantly, the returning first-team All-Western New York selection loves playing his sport in front of his folks.
Gayle gets to do that to his heart’s content this season, beginning with Wednesday night’s marquee nonleague clash at home against Park School. The 6:30 p.m. contest serves as the Lancers' opener while Park is off to a 2-0 start.
There could be more openers in Gayle's future, too, should he continue wanting to indulge in the comforts of home.
There's an old adage that says if you are good enough, coaches will find you. Gayle is the most recent example, and coaches have come to him. Since August, Gayle has received offers from Alabama, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Georgia. That's two Southeastern Conference schools, two Atlantic Coast Conference programs and a Big 12 school.
Since other programs within a conference tend to notice when a four-star recruit is being sought by a rival, there’s a good bet more offers will be coming Gayle's direction. Odds are Gayle, who also plays for an AAU team with older players based out of Delaware, will get the opportunity to impress them where he's most comfortable.
Gayle is coming off a season in which he averaged 22.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.4 steals. He's just one of two freshmen to receive first-team All-Western New York honors – the other is former Niagara Falls point guard Willie Lightfoot, a four-star prospect who opted to leave the Wolverines and attend prep school in Kansas.
“I’ve put a lot of thought into it,” Gayle said Monday night after practice. “They know of me. They’re contacting me. I have an idea of all the schools I want to attend. I don’t really have to go to the IMG [Academy] or Mount Vernon [to get noticed]. If I just do what I do during the AAU season and high school season and they both intertwine, I’ll go to [the] school that I want.”
Gayle is believed to be the first Western New York sophomore to receive this much attention from major Division I programs since former Niagara Falls High and Syracuse University star Jonny Flynn.
The last Lew-Port basketball player to receive this type of attention was 1978 graduate and McDonald's All-American Jim Johnstone, who went to Wake Forest.
“He just wants to get better,” Lancers coach Matt Bradshaw said of Gayle. “I think he knows he has a future in this game if he continues to work. Those coaches coming are just a result of his hard work. He keeps setting a higher standard for himself. He’s a four-star, he wants to be a five-star. He wants to be looked at by the U.S. Developmental Team. He has personal goals that keep him motivated, not just the offers.”
One important thing that motivates Gayle is winning.
The Lancers did that at a historic level last year, finishing with a program-record 21 victories. They ended their decadeslong Section VI and Niagara Frontier League championship droughts with Gayle leading the charge on offense and defense. Lew-Port lost in the Far West Regional to eventual state runner-up Pittsford Mendon.
Just reaching the state tournament won't be enough for Gayle should Lew-Port win another Section VI title.
“I want to win the state title in front of my hometown fans and family," Gayle said.
It won't be easy.
Lew-Port graduated a key veteran in All-WNY pick and 1,000-point scorer Trent Scott and a few other key role players. Finding the right players to fill the void will be a puzzle that Bradshaw looks to solve during the season. The Lancers' challenging nonleague schedule includes games against Canisius and St. Joe's of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association, Section V contenders Aquinas and Bishop Kearney, Regis of New York City and old friend Health Sciences, which lost via buzzer-beater in the sectional quarterfinals to the Lancers last winter.
"This is a rare opportunity we have with a kid like [Gayle], so we're going to take advantage of it by playing some really good schools," Bradshaw said.
While the college offers Gayle has received have been a byproduct of a talented athlete putting in the work to get better, he doesn't work just to capture the attention of college coaches.
“I try to work hard just to set a goal for other people to follow,” Gayle said. “If they see me working hard, then they’ll try to bust a sweat, blood, sweat and tears to try to match my intensity.”
“He makes players around him better,” Bradshaw said. “His ego hasn’t gotten to him. He still cares about others. He’s a very unique kid.”
Uniquely talented, but human like everyone else.
Gayle, who also has offers from Canisius, Niagara and University at Buffalo, admitted he felt anxious before early morning workouts in front of college coaches like Alabama's Nate Oats, Oklahoma assistant and Grand Island product Carlin Hartman and Wake Forest assistant Rex Walters. It’s only natural because they were there to evaluate him with his future hanging in the balance. Division I talent or big-time Division I talent?
“My hands were so sweating because it’s like ‘Wow! Syracuse and Alabama are sitting right there,’ ” Gayle said. “But then I just let my game come to me, just hit my shots that I do, do the same drills that I do and try to make more shots."
“I try to bring myself to reality," Gayle continued. "There are people who think I have a big head because I’m getting all these offers so I try to take a step back, take a deep breath. It makes me humble, stay humble and be the same kid I was before I had any offers.”
The same determined little kid who wouldn't go into the house unless he made 200 dribble, pull-up jumpers.
"Roddy is a rare kid and I just don’t mean that athletically," Bradshaw said. "He’s gifted. He’s a smart kid. He’s a well-mannered kid. People take to him. He’s got charisma. He’s kind. He’s compassionate, he’s caring about others. He’s got the whole package and that’s what a lot of people see in him also when he plays his AAU games, how unselfish he is.”