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Mastodons’ Gaines calling on history

– History began with a phone call; two, actually.

It was 2008 when an acquaintance of then-IPFW men’s basketball assistant coach Tony Jasick called Washington State University and said he had a prospect down in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Would the Cougars be interested?

A Washington State coach said thanks, but no; that the team was full up; that it had just completed its recruiting class and couldn’t bring him in. Maybe he could find somewhere else. So the friend called Jasick, now the Mastodons’ head coach, and gave him the same spiel on a young talent named Frank Gaines.

“And the rest is history,” Jasick says.

Good word, “history.”

It could be made as early as tonight at Memorial Coliseum should Gaines, the 6-foot-3 senior guard, manage 19 points against Bowling Green to become the all-time men’s leading scorer at IPFW.

With 1,747 points, Gaines will eventually pass the record of 1,765 set by Sean Gibson from 1989 to ’93. If the record doesn’t fall tonight, it soon will.

“It’s going to mean a lot to me, etched in stone as to being the all-time scoring leader,” Gaines said. “If somebody told me that I would be the all-time leading scorer, or at least this close, I would have said they were lying.”

Fort Wayne could have been on a different planet, as far as Gaines was concerned. His Boyd H. Anderson High School was nearly all black, and he had never ventured far enough from home to see snow. Indiana? Indiana was cold and lonely.

To make life worse, he redshirted his freshman year.

“I was at a low place my freshman year,” Gaines said. “There were so many things – being this far from home. I contemplated my freshman year that maybe basketball isn’t for me. But I’ve never been a quitter. My father always tried to teach me that. Even the times when I wanted to give up and come home, it was like, ‘You’ve got to stick it out; we’re no quitters.’ If I slept on it, I was good the next day.”

He went from good to better.

“I remember Gaines,” said former IPFW guard Ben Botts, who is fifth on the all-time scoring list with 1,400 points. “His arms were down to his knees, and he was skinny at the time, definitely compared to now. He’s pretty strong now. He needed to be polished a little bit. We always knew he had a good chance to be a really good player.”

After averaging only 4.2 points in his first season, Gaines came back the next year with a different mindset in a different body. The long, thin arms were now defined by muscle. He was faster. And he developed his trademark style of attacking the basket with a vengeance.

As a sophomore, his average jumped to 14.8.

“When he first burst onto the scene, you wondered, ‘Where’d this kid come from?’ ” said 29-year Oakland coach Greg Kampe, whose Grizzlies were beaten 77-71 on Wednesday behind Gaines’ 17 points.

“He’s a heck of a recruit. He’s a unique player in this league. A lot of the great players in this league have been his size, or are his size, but he just has a different skill set than any of those players. I’ve never seen a kid in our league score in transition as well as he scores in transition. I mean, he’s unbelievable. You sit on this bench and you see him get the ball in the open court, you cringe; you know you can’t stop him. Even the best defender in the league can’t stop him.”

Not even Gaines’ coach back then, Dane Fife, could slow him down.

As Gaines recalls, it was a verbal disagreement between him and Fife that stripped him of his starting spot for two games midway through the Summit League schedule.

“I think I had said something back to him, and we got into a little argument in the locker room,” Gaines said. “And then he told me that I had to play my way back into the starting lineup.”

In a win over Centenary, Gaines came off the bench to hit 6 of 9 field goals, 6 of 6 free throws, grab seven rebounds, get two blocked shots and a steal for 19 points.

But the following game, against Oral Roberts, Fife, who is an assistant at Michigan State, kept Gaines on the bench again.

This time he responded by going 6 of 8 from the floor, 5 of 5 from the line, four blocks, three rebounds and another 19 points.

“I took it as motivation,” Gaines said. “I wanted to prove to him that I was worthy to be back in the starting lineup.”

And the rest is history.

He averaged 21.2 points as a junior, which was ninth in the nation. This season he’s averaging 19.2.

The 17 he tossed at Kampe’s Oakland team was the 80th time Gaines has been in double figures. He has scored 20 or more 37 times. His career-high is 32 points – the first game of this season against Auburn, then against Nebraska Omaha on Jan. 31.

“I think it’s significant for our school,” said Jasick of the record about to be set. “No. 1, I don’t think we can take any credit away from what Sean Gibson did. At the end of the day, he had a heck of a career. That’s something we need to continue to embrace and be very respectful of.

“But I do think it’s good for our program. It’s good for us moving forward. When things like this happen, it generally has a tendency to bring other people together. I hope that some of the guys who are on the list – not just Sean, but some of the other guys; some of the guys who played with him – hopefully it can bring them together and rally them a little bit and gain some pride in where the program’s going.”

The best part of it all – of the rare off nights and early, lonely days; of the Indiana chill and, worse, trips to Fargo, N.D.?

“Winning,” Gaines says. The word comes as fast as his first step to the bucket. “The enjoyment of coming into the locker room after a road win; nothing like that.”

Then he finds the word “bittersweet” about being this close to the end of his career.

“I’m definitely happy,” he said. “I wish we would’ve gotten more wins. If I had to do it all over again, I’d still come to IPFW.”


vs. Bowling Green
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Radio: 1380 AM

Top 5 scorers

1,765 – Sean Gibson, 1989-93
1,747 – Frank Gaines, 2009-13
1,485 – Bruce Rowland, 1985-89
1,450 – Nick Wise, 1999-2002
1,400 – Ben Botts, 2007-11

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