For Sundiata Gaines, that description hasn't come with pedigree, but through hard work and time."I've always been tough," the Rochdale Village native said. "Just not as a point guard. It just translated over into the point-guard mentality."Coming out of Archbishop Molloy in 2004, Gaines was a productive scorer. He was the same on his AAU team, the Gauchos, which boasted immense talents like Russell Robinson (now at Kansas) and Ronald Ramon (Pittsburgh). But when Gaines got to his collegiate destination, the University of Georgia, he was told by the coaching staff that because of his height, 6-foot-1, he needed to play the point instead of the scoring, combo guard position he was used to."I was a pure scorer," Gaines said after the Bulldogs' second game in the Rainbow Classic two weeks ago. "I could score at any time."So, he resisted at first. What brought him around was what landed him in Athens, Ga., in the first place: playing time. He could have gone to Pittsburgh, South Carolina or even Connecticut, but Gaines chose Georgia. He knew that coach Dennis Felton would give him the ball at the point from the very beginning."He wanted to play," said his mother, Patricia Gaines.And play he has. Gaines has started every game he's played with the Bulldogs in 3 1/2 years at point guard. Last season, he led the Southeastern Conference in steals (2.2 per game) and his 154 assists were the second highest total in Georgia history. Gaines led the Bulldogs in minutes, starts, rebounds, assists and steals. He became the first point guard in school history to lead the team in rebounds in a season - and he did it his sophomore year, too.This season, Gaines is averaging team bests in both points (12.3) and assists (4.5) per game and Georgia is 7-3."You gotta do everything - you gotta lead the team," Gaines said of playing point guard. "I just got thrown into the pack. I had to find out the hard way. A lot of it I learned on my own."It was a challenge he accepted, just like going down to Georgia in the first place. The Bulldogs were only a few years removed from academic scandal and the coaching staff was worried about New York City's reputation in producing players, according to Patricia Gaines.But Felton wanted Gaines and on his home visit faced somewhat of an interrogation. Ten of Gaines' closest family and friends gathered around the coach in the family's living room, lobbing question after question to him. His answers impressed and the decision was made thereafter: Gaines would go to Georgia."We have a great support system of family and friends," Patricia Gaines said.His mother credits that and the education he got at Molloy with shaping him into the man he is today. Gaines will graduate in May with a degree in sociology, but he still has the same goal he did when he was in junior high school back in Queens: to go to the NBA.It's not like he hasn't been up to the task before."He loves a challenge," Patricia Gaines said. "Any challenge you give him, he'll take it on."Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@
©2008 Community News Group
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