Like any youngster dreaming his hoops dreams, Shane Gatling assumed his collegiate career would unfold somewhere close to home, where his friends and family could watch him launch his signature 3-point shots.
Growing up in Baldwin, New York on Long Island, any number of Division I programs weren’t much further than a long rebound away from Gatling’s home. So the idea his basketball journey would take him to a junior college in Iowa, followed by two seasons at the University of Colorado, might have sounded like pure fantasy to Gatling coming out of high school.
Yet that is exactly how Gatling’s career has unfolded. He and fellow senior Lucas Siewert will be playing their final home games for the 18th-ranked Buffaloes at the CU Events Center this weekend, beginning Thursday night against USC.
“It is wild. In high school, I wanted to play at a high level, but I was thinking schools like Syracuse and St. John’s. That’s stuff near my home,” Gatling said. “I never thought I’d be in Colorado. I never thought I’d be in Iowa two years ago. It’s been a pretty good experience and I’m thankful for it.”
Gatling played one season at Niagara before transferring to Indian Hills Community College, where he caught the eye of the CU coaching staff after earning junior college All-American honors. In two seasons with the Buffs, Gatling’s outside shot has been streaky more often than not, yet it is a testament to his perseverance that he has held down an almost accidental starting role throughout his two-year tenure.
Gatling started 33 of 36 games a year ago, though head coach Tad Boyle later admitted then-junior Deleon Brown likely would have been the season-opening starter if not for the academic issues that eventually derailed his CU career. This year, sophomores Daylen Kountz and Eli Parquet were given the first shots at holding down the starting off-guard spot alongside point guard McKinley Wright. When neither player took command of that role, Boyle turned back to Gatling, who has logged 14 consecutive starts going into Thursday’s showdown against the Trojans.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Gatling said. “To start from a low-major Division I to go down a level to juco to shoot back up to a Power 5 conference, it makes me feel good and it makes me feel I achieved most of my goals. I didn’t achieve all of them, but I got to where I wanted to be and play at the level I wanted to growing up. I’d say I had a pretty solid career.
“I think I’m way better than when I first got here. Just playing here with really good players and a good coaching staff, playing in a good conference, it just…I started working on my game more than I had before. I started getting tips. I started meeting NBA pros who played here and asking them questions and stuff like that. I feel like my game expanded overall.”
Gatling averaged 9.7 points last year with a .319 3-point percentage and enters the USC game averaging 6.7 points with a .333 3-point percentage, albeit in about half the long-range attempts as a year ago.
Gatling has been the difference-maker in several road games during his CU career, scoring a career-high 28 points in a win at UCLA last year and going 7-for-12 with a season-high 20 points in a Dec. 13 win at Colorado State. His 3-point percentage since the beginning of Pac-12 play sits at .360, and the Buffs hope Gatling has a few more big-time shooting performances in reserve as they compete for the Pac-12 title with an NCAA Tournament berth looming.
“He’s got a much better feel not only for what we have to do on the court during games, but he’s got a much better feel for the program and what we expect. What our standards are and how we do things,” Boyle said. “Shane’s an intelligent guy and a guy that has picked up quickly. The biggest jump is usually on the defensive end. We knew Shane could shoot it when we signed him, and he’s made some big shots for us. And we need him to make big shots as the season winds down, because he’s a guy that can stretch the defense. That’s why we signed him — because he can make shots.”
USC Trojans at No. 18 CU Buffs
TIPOFF: Thursday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: USC 19-7, 8-5 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 20-6, 8-4.
COACHES: USC — Andy Enfield, 7th season (129-100, 170-128 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (209-129, 265-195 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: USC — F Onyeka Okongwu, Fr., 16.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg; G Jonah Mathews, Sr., 12.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .379 3-point percentage; F Nick Rakocevic, Sr., 11.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Jr., 13.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.2 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 10.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .404 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg.
WHAT TO WATCH: In league games, USC ranks second in the Pac-12 in overall defensive field goal percentage (.378) and first in defensive 3-point percentage (.282). CU, in turn, leads the league on both categories and shot .519 in a win at USC three weeks ago.
NOTES: The Buffs went 15-for-17 at the free throw line with four players scoring in double figures during a thorough 78-57 win at USC on Feb. 1. Bey led the way with 16 points and seven rebounds…CU has won three consecutive games against the Trojans. Since CU joined the Pac-12, the season series against USC has never witnessed a split, with one side or the other recording a sweep every year…USC’s Okongwu missed last week’s home wins against the Washington schools due to a concussion…In three career games against the Trojans, Battey has shot 60 percent (18-for-30) while averaging 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds…In addition to their Pac-12-leading marks in league games in field goal percentage (.456) and 3-point percentage (.378), the Buffs also rank first in assists per game (14.2), second in free throw percentage (.739), and second in rebounding margin (plus-4.2)…The Buffs host UCLA in the season’s final home game on Saturday (2 p.m., CBS).