East Xtra: As usual, Gateway rates amid contenders

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One can call reaching the WPIAL Class AAAA championship three out of the past four years a model of consistency.

Or simply call it Gateway boys basketball.

The Gators finished last year 16-7 overall and 11-3 in Section 2.

They were ousted in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs by the same team. New Castle beat the Gators, 87-55, in the WPIAL quarterfinals, snapping their streak of reaching the finals three years in a row. The Red Hurricanes eliminated the Gators again, 68-48, in the PIAA first round.

"That was a very good team we played," said Mitch Adams, in his ninth season as the Gators coach. "We are not using that as motivation for this year though. We motivate ourselves. Our kids have been working since two weeks after the season ended. They are driven by themselves."

The Gators, who always seem to reload, have done it again, bringing back a strong nucleus of players.

"This is probably the deepest and most athletic team I have had," Adams said. " We will be fine. It is a long journey. We plan on playing in March somewhere."

Leading the deep, balanced team is a starting five of Tom Kromka, Shomari Thomas, Daylon Harris, Delvin Randall and Aidan Howard.

Kromka, a 6-foot-6, three-year starter, is one of the top performers on the team. A two-time captain, he was voted to the all-section team last year and will be attending Carnegie Mellon University.

Thomas is also a three-year starter and will serve as the point guard.

"He is jet lightning," Adams said. "He is our floor general and we go as he goes."

Harris, a 6-5 junior, will serve as the power forward but gives the Gators flexible options at small forward and shooting guard.

Randall, in his second year, is another captain for the Gators.

"He is just a player," Adams said. "He is not exceptional in any one thing but does everything well. He is a gutsy kid. He is a Division I football player and is going to Temple."

Rounding out the starting five is Howard, a 6-5 sophomore. Howard also gives the Gators options at multiple positions on the court.

The Gators began their season at the Peters Township tipoff tournament and went 1-1. They were already tested Saturday in a 68-66 loss to Seton-LaSalle, ranked No. 2 in Class AA by the Post-Gazette.

"Seton-LaSalle is a very good team," Adams said. "We were not taking good shots. We didn't do a lot of smart things with the ball. That is on me. My kids battled back in the fourth quarter. That shows the heart and character of these kids."

"It is a measuring stick with where we are. I will be a lot smarter this week. Once we do what we are suppose to do, we can be a very good team."

Gateway had all week to learn from its mistakes and prepare for its section opener Friday against Penn Hills, a game Adams views as the biggest one of the season.

"It is the most important game of the year," Adams said. "It will give us a read of where we are. This is the most balance I have seen in this section since I have been here. There are five or six teams that could end up winning [the section title]. We have a lot of talent."

The Gators entered the season as the No. 3-ranked team in Class AAAA, according to the Post-Gazette, a ranking Adams pays little attention to.

"I don't pay too much attention to rankings," Adams said. "They don't bother me. The only ranking that is important is the first week in March when you are holding that gold [trophy]."

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