Every so often, a player flies completely under everybody’s radar. They put up incredible numbers at every level, but for some reason they don’t get the attention they deserve. These players are just waiting for the right team to notice them and give them their shot. Players like Maine Red Claws guard Frank Gaines, who earned his chance when he was taken with the first pick of the second round in the 2013 NBA Development League draft.
“We liked what we saw in his video,” Coach Taylor said of the high selection. “We evaluate a lot of players and sometimes one catches your eye. Frank caught our eye. We liked him and the Celtics liked him, so it was unanimous.” Gaines earned the right to play at the professional level after a high school career that saw Frank lead his team to a 30-2 record and the Florida 6A Championship game, averaging 16.7 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Boyd Anderson High School Cobras. He continued his stellar career at the collegiate level at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he holds the Mastodons’ record for career points (1,841) and was in the top ten scoring leaders for NCAA Division I his junior and senior seasons. Tony Jasick, his college coach, inspired this scoring tear and planted the seed in Frank that would inspire him to take his game to the next level.
Gaines recalls his turning point.
“Around the end of my sophomore year, my coach was like, you’ve got a shot at the next level. I changed my mindset and focused on taking basketball real serious.” This sentiment is echoed among his current coaches. “Frank’s a good person and a good guy to have in the locker room,” according to Red Claws assistant coach Ron Nored. “He’s such a good player and a good scorer. He has a knack for putting the ball in the hole and getting to the free throw line. Thank gosh he’s on our team because he’s so hard to guard.”
Coach Taylor agrees. “He’s fantastic. He’s a good kid who works hard and he’s a team player. The game comes natural to him. As a first year player, he’s really made his mark.” Gaines has seamlessly transitioned from the college game to the NBA Development League.
In the first half of the season, he is second on the team in scoring and has broken the Red Claws team free throws made (17) and attempts (21) records. His game is becoming more well-rounded as he is becoming a better rebounder and defender. Frank attributes some of this success to the Red Claws’ fan base.
“There’s definitely a huge difference [playing here],” Gaines says of his experience at the Portland Expo. “We have such a great fan base, and then you go to some places and there are only a few fans in the place. It’s hard to get up for the games like that.” Frank certainly has no trouble getting into games at the Expo, as some of his best performances have come in front of the home crowd.
The rookie guard is also making things happen in the Greater Portland community. He was a bell ringer for the Salvation Army around Christmas. He did an instructional basketball clinic for the South Portland Recreation Department. He also teamed up with WMTW to record a series of public service announcements against bullying and in support of Three Points for STRIVE, a charity he has helped immensely with his long range shooting since Hammond Lumber pledges money for every three point basket made by a Red Claws player throughout the season.
Frank has come a long way since the days of dreaming big as a kid. “Growing up, I always played like I was all of those stars in my driveway, making buzzer beaters.” Stars like Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Penny Hardaway, who were three of his favorites growing up. Now he is watching guys like James Harden and LeBron James doing big things in the NBA. He hopes to make the jump to the next level, to someday play against those greats or maybe even on the same team as them.
“I’ve got my own game,” Frank said when asked to compare his game to his NBA heroes. “I don’t really want to play like anyone else. I want to be the first Frank Gaines.”
At the conclusion of the 2013-14 D-League season, the recognition came pouring in for Frank, as he was named to the NBA Development League All-Rookie First Team, was an All-NBA Development League Honorable Mention and was named the league's Most Improved Player after increasing is scoring average from 19.2 points during the first half of the season to 25.4 points to finish the year.
He has certainly made a name for himself in Portland.