(University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- Two years ago, he was the one who got away. Now, after a season redshirting at the University of Utah, Naseem Gaskin is in Missoula, where the Montana men's basketball coaches were hoping he'd end up all along.
"It took a little longer to get him here than we first expected, but we're excited to make the most of the time we have," head coach Travis DeCuire said.
There's still plenty of time, too. The Oakland native redshirted last season at Utah, and will have to sit out once again per NCAA's transfer rules. When he's able to suit up and take the court for the Griz, though, the 6-3 guard will still have three years of eligibility remaining, and he fully expects to make the most of it.
"I'm really looking forward to helping this team and having a good time here," Gaskin said. "I think we can do big things."
When Gaskin talks, he speaks with humbleness to him. Yet, in the same voice, there's a sense of confidence, knowing that he's been gifted with talents on the basketball court.
"I think my game can really help this team in every single way possible," Gaskin said. "You're going to see a lot of big plays from me."
On offense, he's a scoring guard who can either facilitate and get his teammates open or create for himself. On the other side, his athleticism allows him to defend any position. The versatility is one of the things that caught DeCuire's attention way back when Gaskin was still in middle school.
DeCuire would notice the talented adolescent at tournaments. As he got to high school and DeCuire was recruiting some of Gaskin's older teammates, he began to see what the prep star at Bishop O'Dowd High School was capable of. Finally, after years of keeping one eye on Gaskin while evaluating others on the court, it became time to go all in on Gaskin.
As a junior, he shot 55 percent from the field, including 36 percent from beyond the arc, while leading Bishop O'Dowd – the same high school that associate head coach Chris Cobb graduated from – to the CIF state tournament. During his senior season, he racked up countless accolades while averaging 14.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He was a three-star recruit by ESPN and 247Sports and was ranked as a top-50 player in the state of California.
All the while, Gaskin remained a little under the radar, while DeCuire and his coaching staff continued to court Gaskin with visits to the Bay Area. Prior to the start of his senior season, Gaskin returned the favor with his first trip to Missoula, and soon after, DeCuire thought he would be a Grizzly.
"We thought we were going to get him," DeCuire said.
And then Gaskin took over on the AAU circuit, having a monster July and catching the attention of several bigger schools.
"He had a few schools come in late and we found ourselves competing against the Pac-12," DeCuire said.
In the end, Gaskin enjoyed his visit to Montana, but the Pac-12 was hard to beat.
Gaskin packed his bags for Salt Lake City and spent the 2018-19 season with the Utes, redshirting while gaining muscle and adjusting to the collegiate level. After that first season, though, the allure wasn't what he expected, and it was easy to figure out where he would end up this time.
"When I put my name in the (transfer) portal, I knew this would be the best fit for me," Gaskin said of Montana. "This staff was one of the first schools to show interest in me, and they kept coming back to support me. That was a pretty cool experience for me.
"They were still there for me and still wanted me, so I knew that's what I wanted too."
While Gaskin likely won't be able to play this season, the path from the Pac-12 to Montana has produced several talented players for the Griz in recent memory.
Ahmaad Rorie played his freshman season at Oregon before coming to Montana, being named the Big Sky Championships MVP and becoming the fastest player in school history to score 1,500 career points. Kendal Manuel came to Missoula from Oregon State, where in his first season was named the league's top newcomer and sixth man of the year.
Next up, the Griz expect, is Gaskin.
"Naseem brings to the table three things that are hard to get at this level – length, athleticism and a motor," DeCuire said. "He plays hard, he competes at a high level and he can defend any perimeter position, and his athleticism allows him to defend in most situations if we were to switch things up. He allows us to do a lot of things we did with Mike Oguine, but I think he's more experienced with the ball in his hands than Mike was when we got him.
"We have big expectations for him and we're excited for what he can bring to Griz Nation.