With the National Signing Deadline a few weeks away, it would have been perfectly plausible if the Sacred Heart Pioneers decided to move forward with their 12 scholarship players for the 2012-13 season. The 13th and final scholarship could have been used at a later date on another transfer, late signing freshman, or simply not used at all. Any of these options would have been fine, yet there was one problem. Sacred Heart still sorely needed an athletic frontcourt presence who could unselfishly do the dirty work inside – crash the glass, defend skilled opponents both in the paint and on the perimeter, and run the floor in transition.
Sacred Heart assistant coach Anthony Latina, and the rest of the coaching staff, continued to scan the recruiting landscape with little time remaining, in the hopes of finding a freshman to fill their need. Latina was in Las Vegas on a recruiting trip, when he received an e-mail from an assistant high coach in Georgia. The coach asked Latina (perhaps begged) to look at his talented 6-foot-6 power forward with a fierce rebounding prowess and high motor. Sacred Heart will typically receive hundreds of these inquiries annually, but more often than not, the staff will follow up to see if there’s something to it. This time around, Latina decided to download the e-mailed highlight clip for his flight home from Las Vegas. He did not regret the move.
“I was very intrigued, very excited with what I saw on the highlight tapes,” said Latina. “Once I saw the tape, I tried to figure out what was wrong with him. Why was he still around? He must be a terrible student, there must be some baggage there?”
Meanwhile a few weeks prior, things were really starting to come together for De’Aires Tate. Tate had played an integral role in leading the M.L. King High Lions to the Georgia Class AAAAA playoffs, and now in the playoffs, the athletic forward was having some of the best games of his high school career. In one playoff victory versus Coffee County High, Tate scored 19 points and corralled an impressive 19 rebounds. The rising senior was becoming an undeniable force down low.
In addition, Tate had more important reasons to smile. In mid February, he had verbally committed with the Grambling State Tigers, along with his M.L. King teammate Tivius Guthrie. Tate’s dream of playing college basketball under a Division I scholarship was about to come true.
The story for Tate could have simply ended there, but things were just too unstable at Grambling State. After suffering through a brutal 4-24 season, Bobby Washington – the Grambling State coach who had recruited Tate – was fired along with his entire staff. All of a sudden, Tate’s scholarship was in limbo. Would the next coaching regime honor Tate’s scholarship? Or would they cut ties with Tate, leaving him with little to no time to find another Division I team?
Rather than waiting it out and putting himself at risk, Tate did something a lot of players wouldn’t have had the courage to do – he de-committed to Grambling State and opened himself back up to the recruiting process. And that’s precisely when Latina received an e-mail from Tate’s high school coach.
“The more work we did (in researching Tate), the more positive answers we got,” said Latina. “Wonderful person, wonderful kid. He’s a rebounder. He had multiple 20-plus rebound games in his career. That’s hard to do at any level.”
Rebounding, as Latina had quickly found out, was something Tate enjoyed and excelled in. Tate finished in the top 10 of rebounding in the DeKalb County league for his junior and senior seasons. Even more impressive though, was the fact that he averaged 12 points per game, despite never once being the focal point of M.L. King’s offense. All his points were derived from offensive put-backs, loose balls, and running the floor in transition.
“I didn’t get to shoot as much, so I just crashed the glass and got rebounds,” said Tate.
Despite opening himself back up to the recruiting process late, Tate was offered scholarships from Sacred Heart and fellow mid-major school Nicholls State. Besides being impressed with Latina’s recruiting pitch, Tate chose Sacred Heart and the unknown state of Connecticut for an additional reason. “I didn’t want to go to Louisanna,” said a candid Tate.
Now situated on Sacred Heart’s quaint Fairfield campus, Tate is looking to make the most of an opportunity to contribute for a Pioneer team ready to win now. With the offensively skilled, perimeter-oriented Justin Swidowski locked in as the starting “5” for Sacred Heart, the team is in desperate need of finding a versatile “4” that can bang down low, grab rebounds, and play inspired defense. Given his strengths, Tate should fit in well alongside a big man like Swidowski, and in future seasons, fellow freshman Tevin Falzon.
“I think (Tate’s) strengths, which are rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor, blocking shots, and running the floor, are areas where we’ve lacked in recent years,” said Latina. “In that regard, there are opportunities for him. Obviously, there are no guarantees.”
While his elite athleticism should find Tate some minutes off the Pioneer’s bench in his inaugural season, the driven freshman is cognizant of the challenges ahead. He’s spent most of the offseason working hard to improve his game. “One of the best things I can work on is my ball-handling, so I can also be a “3” (on the floor),” said Tate. “I’m also working on my explosion and endurance.”
Strength may also be an issue in his freshman season, especially when the physically ready, yet lean Tate is forced to guard crafty and more physical NEC power forwards like Jonathan Williams, Jamal Olasewere, and Ike Azotam. It will take some time for Tate to add some muscle, which of course is a common concern for most freshmen transitioning to the college level.
Despite the obstacles that lie ahead, however, Tate has put forth a strong work ethic and is setting his goals rather high. “One of my goals is to get (NEC) Rookie of the Year,” said Tate. He then added with a big smile, “I want to get the gym packed.”
Those are two goals every Sacred Heart Pioneer fan can certainly get behind. We'll have to wait and see if De'Aires Tate will soon realize those goals.