All Mitch Adams wanted for Christmas was his voice back.
After his Gateway High School boys basketball team staved off an upset bid by Plum by eking out a 38-36 victory against the Mustangs last Friday night, the Gators coach had a hard time talking. Shomari Thomas' basket with 1.5 seconds left gave Gateway the win.
"That's what happens when you go 4 for 24 from the foul line, have 22 turnovers and then have someone as dumb as myself punching myself in the face," Adams said, referring to his raspy voice.
The beginning of the season for the Gators and their coach isn't as bad as that sounds, however.
Gateway was 4-0 overall and 3-0 in Section 2-AAAA before Wednesday's action in holiday tournament play. The Gators won the WPIAL Class AAAA championship each of the past two seasons.
"We're really a work in progress," Adams said. "We have some new faces and we're trying to find our way a little bit. We're making progress but not nearly as good as I hope we're going to be later in the season."
Gateway must replace two Division I players who graduated, Guard Tyler Scott is taking an academic redshirt at Kent State this season while 6-foot-10 forward Barnett Harris is attending Fishburne Military School in Waynesburg, Va., and has committed to play at Delaware next year.
Gateway does, however, have 5-foot-11 senior point guard D.J. Boyce and he has the experience of starting on a pair of WPIAL championship teams. He was the Gators' leading scorer in their first two games with a 16-point performance in a 48-45 win against Blackhawk, then putting up 18 in a 63-47 victory against Penn Hills in the section opener.
"He's been a little off with his shooting the last couple of games but that will come back around," Adams said. "He really knows how to run this team, how to take control of things.
"There are some pretty good point guards around the WPIAL, but I haven't seen one yet who's as good as D.J."
Boyce is one of two returning starters for Gateway along with 6-5 junior forward Thomas Kromka, who doesn't score much but handles a lot of the dirty work on defense and on the boards.
Deon Cottrell-Baker, a 6-5 senior swingman, has made an impact early in the season after transferring from Imani Christian. He has scored in double figures in three of Gateway's four games, including a season-high 14 in the win against Plum.
"Deon has an NBA-type body," Adams said. "Now, it's a matter of getting his skill level to match his body. He is getting better but he still has room for improvement. He has a chance to be really good."
Another senior transfer, 6-3 guard Jordan Landfair, has also contributed after moving into the district from Memphis. He had 15 points to lead Gateway in a 48-32 victory against Woodland Hills.
"He is still learning our system and we're still teaching it to him," Adams said. "He's had some ups and downs but he is making progress."
And that pretty much sums up Gateway as a team through its first four games.
"You always want to play better and I know we will," Adams said. "But we're 4-0 and you have to feel good about that."
The Gators were scheduled to play Clairton Wednesday in their eight-team holiday tournament that also features Monessen, Jeannette, Wilkinsburg, Greensburg Central Catholic, Imani Christian and Brentwood (Tenn.). The tournament is scheduled to continue today and Friday.