Last season, Gateway boys basketball finished 10-13, but a new energy and excitement can be felt around this program and a lot of this is due to first year Coach Ibn Shabazz.
Headed into this week, the Olympians are 7-3 overall and 4-1 in league play. We have verified that the Olympians 6-0 start to this season is their best start in 15 years, and possibly the best start any Gateway boys hoops squad has experienced.
Coach Shabazz has an extremely veteran squad and that's an excellent situation for a first-year coach to walk into. Shabazz is familiar with the community and the program after being part of the staff the last three years after experiencing success in a smaller classification as a coach at DSST: Green Valley Ranch.
Trying to instill a new "culture" in the basketball program is one of Shabazz's main goals: "We want to instill confidence, play free, and have an identity," he said.
Players knowing who they are on and off the court is something Coach hopes his young men know is important to him, and what he strives to help them explore on a daily basis. Enthusiasm and excitement clearly come through as Coach Shabazz speaks of his team and that positive energy is certainly carrying over to the players.
Erick "EZE" Covington is one of the twelve seniors — and he's a Team Captain — the Olympians have on their roster who can speak to this resurgence. He's a true "hard nose" multi-sport stud who has been part of the program for four years and has embraced Coach Shabazz's new culture.
"Playing for Coach Ib is great," Covington said. "He knows our team strengths and builds around them and is quick to call us out on our mistakes. Coach isn't one to draw up a bunch of plays and have us run them, but more of a coach that trusts his players and lets us just hoop with his pointers and ways to beat opposing schemes."
Covington is a "stat-stuffin" coaches' dream, as he averages 8 points, 4 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals through 10 games. Covington credits Coach Shabazz's energy and new "culture" he's brought to a group that was already very close and Shabazz won't let the Oly's back down from adversity.
That adversity was on display last Wednesday as Gateway was upset by Bear Creek at home after surrendering a 10-point first half lead. What was impressive was that whether this team was up or down the enthusiasm (especially during a pandemic with few in the stands) and energy from the players and staff on the bench never ceased until the final seconds.
Instead of beating themselves up about the loss, Coach Shabazz and Covington both assessed the mistakes the team made and it was all about how will they respond.
The Olympians' other senior captain and statistical leader, Andres Arellano Jr., did just that, responding in the very next game with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals to help break the three-game losing streak the Oly's were certainly not used to this season.
The 6'5 senior wing is new to Gateway, but noticed players talking about a different "feel" to the season right away.
"A rough and disappointing start to my senior season but after listening to and being under Coach Ibn I started to turn it around and it's been a pretty amazing experience," Arellano said.
Once again those words: energy, culture, and attitude exude when Arellano speaks of the program overall.
"I've heard so much how the culture of Gateway basketball has changed under Coach Ibn this year," he said. "We react a lot according to Coach, he brings us energy every day in practice and in games. We feed off that energy and it's our job to keep the energy high and play to the best of our ability."
Coach Shabazz noted that the home loss to Bear Creek was a tough one but all he wanted to see was how his team respond to adversity. They did that with a 10-point team win at Brighton Friday night.
Speaking of a challenge! The toughest test of the season comes tomorrow when CHSAANow.com's No. 3-ranked 5A team with the state's longest winning streak, Rangeview, visits Gateway on Wednesday.
"With 12 proud seniors from Aurora, a lot of these boys have known each other for years and I'll push my guys," said coach Shabazz. Once again, another opportunity to see how his squad responds to adversity with a new energy and culture!
Hard to come away from this Ball Fever Special Assignment and not feel that the Gateway Basketball Program is in good hands for what could be many years to come.
Coach Shabazz has put in work in the community, youth basketball, mentoring, and Gateway is fulling understanding what many in the Northeast Denver and Aurora communities already knew!