Jan. 26, 2012
STANFORD, Calif.- At Vashon Island High School in Puget Sound, Washington, John Gage regularly gunned down opponents. He wore #40, earning the nickname "40-Gage."
"If you think about it, it's the weakest shotgun in the world," said a smiling Gage, a 6-9 sophomore forward/center on the Stanford basketball team. "I don't know if the kids knew that."
Not that he cared. Gage led his school, located between Seattle and Tacoma, and accessible only by ferry, to a state championship as a junior. As a senior, he averaged nearly 19 points a game and set a school record with 89 blocked shots. Gage was selected the State 1A Player of the Year by the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association.
Gage's specialty is shooting: the longer, the better. Like most sharpshooters, he's always open and doesn't lack for confidence.
"Whenever I shoot it, I think the ball is going to go in," Gage said. "It's always been like that for me."
Johnny Dawkins, the Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball, has put no restrictions on Gage.
"John has the green light for us," he said. "We want him to be ready for a shot whenever it's available because he has one of the best strokes in our conference."
As a freshman, Gage appeared in 20 games and drew one start, averaging 3.8 points per contest. So far this season, he has played in 17 of 20 games and received two starts, averaging 5.5 points in 201 minutes of playing time.
But Gage has been efficient coming off the bench. If you prorate his totals based on a 40-minute game, he would average 18.5 points and 3.6 three-pointers per game. Gage shoots .391 percent from the field and .471 percent from 3-point range.
Dawkins admits he has rewarded Gage with more minutes because of his good play. Gage scored a career-high 13 points at Oregon earlier this month.
"Absolutely," said Dawkins. "That's what you want. I like being in the tough position of having to decide who we need to play and John did that. He put himself in that position by stepping up in some big games for us and he's earned that right."
Gage has a quick release and isn't shy about launching.
"You'd be surprised," insisted Gage. "Sometimes I just decide not to shoot. But I'm 6-9 and a lot of times I'm open. My role is to shoot the ball and I'll continue to shoot the ball."
Dawkins is hoping Gage and the 15-5 Cardinal heat up Sunday when they try and snap a two-game losing streak at Cal. It won't be easy, but Gage thinks Stanford can bounce back.
"There's no doubt we are excited about what we have going on here,"
Gage said. `It's such a special situation because we have a lot of young talent and we have amazing senior leadership. When we get it going and defend, we're pretty tough."
Gage, who until recently sported a bushy hairdo, has become a favorite of the Sixth Man Club. He's appreciative of the support but said, "When I'm on the court, it's just basketball. I don't hear anything from the crowd. I'm very focused."
As for his hair, Gage likes to wear it long, but not as shaggy as teammate Andrew Zimmermann. Gage is picky about barbers and prefers to have his hair cut at Tresidder Union on campus. Just before winter break, he went in for a trim but the shop was closed until after the holidays.
"I couldn't bring myself to get my hair cut anywhere else," he said.
"It got continually longer, so every time I took a shot it would hit me in the eye. When it (the shop) opened up, I immediately got in there and got a haircut. It was just a mess."
Gage said he was a "serious" soccer player until eighth grade. And although his dad is 5-11 and his mom is 5-10, Gage shot up quickly at age 12.
"I didn't think I was going to be very big," said Gage. "But I was 6-5 in eighth grade, so the game kind of came to me. My family and friends just kept encouraging me to play basketball. Once I got started, I just said, `I'm going to do my best with this.' ''
Gage didn't really blossom as an outside shooter until he arrived at Stanford.
"My senior year in high school I only took 11 3's on the season and made 7 of them," he said. "I was mostly a post player."
It might be surprising to learn that Gage doesn't consider himself the best shooter on the team. Although he can hold his own against almost anybody in a game of H-O-R-S-E, teammate Robbie Lemons is almost unbeatable.
"He'll beat me 80 percent of the time," Gage said.
Gage loved growing up in Vashon, which has a population of about 10,000. Few kids take ferries to every away game.
"I never knew anything different," said Gage. "It wasn't until I got here that I realized most high school rivalries are 10 minutes apart.
For me, it was an hour and a half and you just bond with your guys and have a good time."
Gage has tried to pattern his game after NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
"Dirk has always been a very, very cool guy to watch," said Gage. "Just the way he shoots the ball and gets shots for himself."
For Gage to become the player he wants to be, he knows where he must improve his game.
"No doubt I need to make the biggest strides on defense and rebounding," he said. "I just need to get stronger. I need to be a problem for other teams."
Gage is an economics major and carries a team-high 3.664 GPA. He has been nominated for Academic All-America honors. Gage likes solving math problems and enjoys watching Jeopardy.
"I loved math coming in, but I realized there is math, and then there is Stanford math," said Gage. "I like finance and math, so it's a good combination for me."
- by Mark Soltau
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