Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Eastern Kentucky-Bound Asante Gist Leads St. Anthony’s Over St. Patrick’s in Rivalry Game
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Asante Gist was at the first day of practice at his third high school when he suffered a minor injury and Naismith Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley told him he just might not be cut out for it.
“That’s just a little injury, you gotta do better than that,” the legendary coach told the 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior who had previously played at Roselle Catholic and Marist High School. “You might not be able to play here.”
But Gist took Hurley’s words as a challenge and just kept on playing and persevering.
On Saturday afternoon, in the biggest high school basketball game in New Jersey yet this season, Gist’s perseverance paid off. He scored 12 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter as St. Anthony’s remained unbeaten with a thrilling 60-56 victory over arch-rival St. Patrick’s before approximately 4,000 fans in the Jersey City Armory at the Dan Finn Classic.
Gist, who signed with Eastern Kentucky University in November, was named MVP for the winning team after shooting 5-for-7 from beyond the arc and scoring 18 points in the second half.
Harvard-bound Bryce Aiken (20 points) won MVP honors for the Celtics. The performance was made even more impressive by virtue of the fact that Gist missed St. Anthony’s first five games because he had to sit out upon transferring from Marist and is only now jelling with his teammates in games.
St. Anthony’s, the No. 1 team in New Jersey according to The Star-Ledger, improved to 10-0 and made a statement about its intentions on winning an 11th Tournament of Champions title in March. St. Pat’s (8-2), the state’s No. 2 team, lost for just the second time this season.
Gist made five 3-pointers in the game, four in the second half. After St. Pat’s took its biggest lead of the game at 34-29, Gist nailed two long-distance shots within a few seconds late in the third period, the second one putting the Friars ahead 36-34.
When the Celtics scratched back to take a 41-40 lead on a pair of Nick Richards free throws, it was Gist who made two foul shots to give St. Anthony’s the lead again at 42-41, a lead they never relinquished. He then hit back-to-back threes to stretch the lead to 48-41. Later, he made 1-of-2 foul shots and added a driving layup to push the advantage to 55-46.
Uncommitted junior guard Jamir Harris drained a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to cut St. Pat’s lead to 58-56, but R.J. Cole (nine points) calmly drained two soul shots with 4 seconds left to ice the victory for the Friars.
“I just got into a zone that I can’t even describe,” Gist said. “I just got to a spot and let it fly. We practice shooting every day for about an hour. Coach stresses that to us, we gotta make shots, we gotta make shots, so I just felt as though I do this, so let me just let it fly.”
The Jersey City Armory remains a huge dimly lit arena with plenty of space behind the baskets, making the site lines extremely difficult for shooters. But it didn’t seem to bother Gist.
“Actually they told me before I came here that it’s going to be a tough shooting atmosphere and I could tell during warm-ups that it’s different, but like I said I just had confidence in my shot and I just let it fly,” Gist said.
Former Rutgers coach Mike Rice is now coaching St. Pat’s and he was asked how good a player Gist can be at the next level.
“If he makes shots like that he’s going to be a really good player, it’s very simple,” Rice told SNY.tv. “The game is about putting the ball in the hole and he put the ball in the hole in a tough shooting arena and so I give him a lot of credit.”
Hurley also praised his senior guard’s performance.
“A couple of sets we ran got him great looks and we needed every one of those shots from him,” Hurley said. “And this is a kid that can really make shots, and I think he’s learning to do all the other things. He’s becoming a much better defensive player and he was terrific today.”
On top of his offensive output, Gist also asked to guard the Harvard-bound Aiken and helped to contain him somewhat as well.
“Coach told me that in order to be successful at the next level, in order to be successful here, you gotta play defense as well as offense,” Gist said. “So I just buckled down and played the defense that I could. I even asked to guard [Aiken] at point in the game so that’s what it came down to be.”
Gist was a freshman on a Roselle Catholic team that won the Tournament of Champions in 2013 when current Syracuse forward Tyler Roberson was the team’s star, but a year ago he transferred to Marist after current Kentucky freshman Isaiah Briscoe and other guards emerged at RC.
He opted to join the legendary Hurley’s program this season and now seems to be providing critical senior leadership on the big stage.
“I feel as though this is the best situation for me and I should’ve been here, so that’s what it is,” he said.
In November, Gist chose Eastern Kentucky over Miami and Central Florida because of the recruiting pitch of head coach Dan McHale, a former Seton Hall assistant under Kevin Willard.
“Asante will come in right away and be a major part of the culture that we are building at Eastern Kentucky,” McHale told SNY.tv on Saturday. “He is a program-changer that will flourish in my up-tempo system, similar to the way [former New Jersey standout] Jarelle Reischel has this year.”
Gist could win a second Tournament of Champions title at a second school before his high school career ends, but he’s looking forward to the next level as well.
“[Coach McHale] tells me that he wants me to score the ball, get my teammates involved, play defense, everything that Coach Hurley tells me to do,” Gist said. “And just play with freedom and do everything I gotta do and be the leader of the team.”
Right now, he’s doing a pretty good job of helping to lead the Friars.
In addition to having one Hurley coach in the game, both teams featured a player headed to play for another Hurley in the future. St. Anthony’s junior forward Daniel Mading committed to play for Bobby Hurley at Arizona State, while St. Pat’s senior forward Cyril Langevine (six points) has signed to play for Dan Hurley at Rhode Island…Both teams will turn around and play on the even bigger stage of the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. St. Patrick’s meets La Lumiere (IN) at 5:45 on Sunday, while St. Anthony’s plays Kentucky-bound guard Malik Monk and Bentonville (ARK) on Monday at 9 a.m.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.