Feb. 21—At the start of the season, there were high expectations for the Bishop Canevin boys basketball team.
The Crusaders were the preseason No. 1 in the Class A Trib HSSN rankings. Junior guard KeVaughn Price was named the preseason Class A player of the year while teammates senior guard Dom Elliott, junior forward Jhamil Fife and senior guard Nevan Crossey were also given some well-deserved preseason ink.
However, as the regular season concludes, a new giant has emerged, solidifying the Crusaders as the team to beat in Class A.
At 6-foot-6, junior Jayden Gales might not be a giant, but he has made a big splash in leading the Crusaders to the top in Section 2-A.
"Jaden's length and athleticism creates a lot of issues for the other team's offenses," Bishop Canevin coach Gino Palmosina said. "In the half court, with his ability to protect the rim, it lets us be more aggressive on the defensive end. I think more and more teams when they game plan for us, a lot of the focus is on him, which has opened up looks for a lot of our other guys. He has done a fantastic job, especially of late, in making the right play and not forcing anything along with getting others involved."
Gayles has noticed some teams paying a lot of attention to him.
"Sometimes teams forget my play style," he said. "Once they start to figure it out, they mostly start to double-team me and try and cover up my strong sides."
As it turns out, his strong side is indeed his strength.
"His strength has been the most impressive to me," Palmosina said. "Very few kids his size can move and jump the way he does. However, I think his strength gets overlooked a lot because of that. You can see it in the way he finishes at the rim. Not much contact ever bugs him."
Lots of high school players can used their strength to win battles on the block, but to take it to the next level, players have to but the ball through the basket.
"I would say my strength is finishing at the hoop," Gayles said. "I can take it to the hoop when I get the opportunity, and also my mid-range game is getting better as well. Really, all I need to work on is my ball handling and my 3-point shot and also becoming more like a guard."
As a junior, time is on his side to work on his game. On a Crusaders team with plenty of experience and seniors, intangibles like being a leader are also improving for Gayles as this season has gone on.
"I would consider myself a leader," Gayles said. "For example, when we're on the court and I see that we're slacking, sometimes I'd tell my teammates that we got to pick up the speed and dominate. Even when some of my teammates are hanging their head, I try and tell them to brush it off and keep it going."
His coach agrees.
"I think at first, he had trouble with that," Palmosina said. "Since we lost our first two games to Chartiers Valley and Quaker Valley, I think he has changed. You see him being more vocal on the court."
It's not too early to become a team leader or start looking ahead to when Gayles graduates next summer.
"I've been thinking about becoming an animator because of my artistic ability, or a technical engineer in college," Gayles said. "But the main goal is to make it to the pro level in hoops and amping my game up in order to reach that level."
With the playoffs coming up, both the coach and the player believe that all the hard work thus far and over the next couple of weeks could pay off with a bunch of gold.
"Since our first two losses, we are starting to jell a little better now," Palmosina said. "Our guys are just making better decisions and understanding each other's games more and more. We want to make sure we are playing the right basketball at the right time."
Added Gayles: "We're very confident, but also very humble about it as well. I have a feeling we can win it all. All we need to do is focus and get the job done and move on."