It was a terrible moment.
Just minutes into the January 31 contest at Villanova, point guard Edmond Sumner took a nasty fall after contact on a drive to the basket. To make matters worse, 240-pound Kris Jenkins then landed on his head.
It wasn’t a dirty play by anyone on the Wildcats, but that was little consolation as Sumner lie motionless on the floor and was taken off on a stretcher, wearing a neck brace 20 minutes later.
Xavier was never the same that afternoon, shellshocked with concern for their fallen teammate. It probably would not have mattered anyway as Villanova played their best game of the year and routed the Musketeers by 31.
A little more than two weeks later, there is a great sigh of relief. Sumner flew home with the team that day, took the slow and cautious route to return to action and looked like nothing had ever happened scoring 15 points with five assists in his first game back against Marquette last Saturday.
The silver lining to this scary moment is that in the three games Sumner missed Kaiser Gates emerged.
If you had to make a guess at who would emerge in Sumner’s absence, the logical candidate would have been his backup at the point guard position, Larry Austin, Jr. He played well in a few additional minutes but veteran shooting guard Myles Davis took most of the additional minutes at the point guard position, shuffling the whole rotation. In stepped Gates.
Kaiser is a 6-foot-8. 205 pound freshman from Georgia. He was largely considered a three-star, solid but unspectacular prospect. This reputation is unsurprising considering his high school teammate was five-star prospect and recent Arizona commit Kobi Simmons. Kobi was Batman; Kaiser was just trying to be Robin.
Know as a shooter, Kaiser tried to make an impact on the Musketeers early this season jacking up threes at every opportunity. His 22 percent mark from behind the arc before the Villanova game was not winning many fans on a team that passes up good shots for better ones no matter who the shooter is.
With the extra minutes available, it clicked for Gates; he emerged by fading back into the shadows and accepting his role.
As Coach Chris Mack has noted repeatedly, Kaiser moves his feet exceptionally well on defense, allowing him to switch on the pick-and-roll onto even the quickest guards and hold his own. He has also figured out how to be effective in the middle of Xavier’s unique 1-3-1 defense.
Most importantly, Gates has greatly improved his rebounding. Not only have the raw rebound numbers increased but the way he gets them has improved. Rather than simply catching the rebounds that fall into his lap, Gates is now fighting better for position with bigger players. He’s rebounding outside his area and snatching the ball at the highest point before others have a chance to contest it.
Perhaps not coincidentally—as he’s focused doing the little things to fit in rather than jacking up shots to standout—his shooting has also improved. In the last four games he has hit more threes than the rest of the season combined while shooting 50 percent.
Kaiser Gates will probably not become a house hold name this season. Even in the BIG EAST, he may not be much more than a vaguely familiar name. But Musketeer fans should take note as he now makes a deep and dangerous team deeper and more dangerous and asserts himself as a player who can contribute for years to come.