CINCINNATI -- Kaiser Gates is back, and that’s big news for Xavier’s men’s basketball team.
The sophomore forward was shelved in late October after undergoing a scope to remove small particles of cartilage from his left knee. He was projected to return in 4 weeks and, following participation in the last few Musketeers’ practices, that plan has come to fruition.
Coach Chris Mack said Friday that the 6-foot-8-inch Gates has been released to play and “looks good.” Asked if Gates might see minutes in Saturday’s noon rematch against Northern Iowa at Cintas Center, Mack said, “Sure.”
Gates' return alters the complexion of No. 9 Xavier’s roster by adding a dimension the Panthers didn’t see in Sunday’s Tire Pros Invitational championship in Florida. The Musketeers defeated Northern Iowa 67-59 for the title.
Not only does Gates provide depth to a frontcourt featuring Sean O’Mara, RaShid Gaston and Tyrique Jones, but his ability to bury 3-pointers creates a difficult match-up for players his size. Gates can make long range shots or draw out his defender and create opportunities in the lane.
"We don't have anybody like Kaiser on our roster. He’s got great size with an innate ability to move his feet," Mack said. “I’ve said it before, he’s got elite feet. He’s also added a lot of strength from his freshman year to his sophomore year. He can stretch the floor as well as any quote-unquote big in our league can."
Gates did not play in Xavier’s exhibition victory over Division II Ferris State or its first five regular-season outings so he’s a bit behind his teammates, but he knows the Musketeers’ system and is capable of providing a big spark.
Last season Gates averaged 4.2 points and 4 boards in the final five games (up from season averages of 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds) and played one of his best outings in a March 5 victory against Creighton. He went 3-for-3 from the perimeter and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line for 11 points while adding a career-high eight rebounds.
Junior guard Trevon Bluiett said "it means a lot" for Gates to be healthy again.
"He’s an extra body so we go from eight (scholarship players) to nine," Bluiett said. "And on top of that, he brings so much versatility to us. He’s a mobile four (power forward). He can shoot and guard the four or three (small forward), any position basically. He probably won’t get major minutes this Saturday but once he gets back into the flow, I think he’s going to be very vital for us."
Xavier actually has 10 scholarship players now, counting Gates and walk-on turned scholarship player Tim Stainbrook. The only remaining piece of the puzzle is senior guard Myles Davis, who remains indefinitely suspended from the program.
Saturday marks the start of a home-and-home series between Xavier (5-0) and Northern Iowa (3-1), as well as the Musketeers’ first back-to-back meetings with a non-conference opponent since facing Yale twice in a row in 1960.