Honored two weeks ago on Fordham's senior day, Chris Gaston leaves Rose Hill among greatest players in Ram history. (Photo courtesy of Fordham University)
He first made a name for himself at an historic high school program that has produced countless collegiate and professional superstars under the watchful eye of a living legend. It took two years for him to reach the Division I level, and on his way up, hardly anyone paid attention to him. Once he arrived, he spent the entirety of his next four years proving people wrong. Silencing the critics. Making a name for himself time and time again, even after missing half of his final season following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Much like the mythical phoenix, Chris Gaston has made a living out of rising from the ashes, and it is really the only way he has known how to operate in recent years.
It started with his stellar career at perennial powerhouse St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, where Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley helped mold the Union City native into a winning player. Yet for all the accolades he had accumulated, Gaston needed two additional years at two prep schools to gain academic eligibility after starring on a St. Anthony's team that included future high-major talent Tyshawn Taylor, Mike Rosario and Travon Woodall. No one wanted him initially, until Fordham University came along in 2009. The rest, as they say, is history.
One hundred games, an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award, two second team all-A-10 selections, 56 double-doubles and career point and rebound averages in double figures later, Gaston's career; one he almost never got to finish after a car accident in his freshman season nearly killed him, comes to an unfortunate end this Saturday, when his Fordham team wraps up a taxing and admittedly disappointing 6-24 season with a road trip to western New York to take on St. Bonaventure, last season's Atlantic 10 champions.
Some people would consider it apropos that Gaston's career culminates under the radar, considering that his four years at Fordham were spent trying to resurrect a program who has not been to the postseason since 1992. When you really think about it, however, Gaston is the basketball equivalent of men the likes of Barry Sanders, Don Mattingly, and Derrick Thomas; each of whom were among the most highly regarded athletes in their sport, but all of whom never had the opportunity of playing for a championship in their illustrious careers.
"He's been loyal to Fordham," Rams coach Tom Pecora has said on multiple occasions throughout the season, "because Fordham has been loyal to him. In his heart, I know he really wanted to be a part of turning this around. It's just a shame that he won't be here when we do."
Temple coach Fran Dunphy, whose Owls leave the Atlantic 10 following this season, got to see Gaston one last time Wednesday night in his team's 74-55 victory over Fordham at the Rose Hill Gym, and was equally as praiseworthy as Pecora.
"I think the respect that he got before the season by being named an all-league player (Gaston was a preseason first team all-Atlantic 10 honoree) is all you need to know about him," Dunphy said. "It's a shame that he's missed so many games. He's been a terrific player in this league, and the numbers speak for themselves."
Numbers that include 1,650 points and 1,029 rebounds, good enough for eighth and third-best in Fordham history, respectively, and consistently ranking among the best players in the New York metropolitan area; the same area that has included names like D.J Kennedy, Dwight Hardy, Jeremy Hazell, Eugene Harvey, Jordan Theodore, Mike Glover, Scott Machado, Momo Jones, Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison during Gaston's tenure in the Bronx. If that does not constitute a successful player, tell me something that does.
The sad thing about Chris Gaston's career is that the great amount of people who discounted his success because of the lackluster Fordham teams he played on for four years will realize posthumously just how vital he was to the Ram program, just how much of a blessing it was to watch a 6-7 swingman compete at the power forward position against bigger opponents and get the best of them more often than not. In other words, you don't know what you have until it is gone.
Gaston has one more game. Forty more minutes in a career whose next home remains to be seen. Regardless of where he ends up, he has already won; despite a 25-90 collegiate record, but life is not about how many times you get hit. Rather, life is about how you get back up from every hit you absorb. It takes heart to succeed in the game of life, and Chris Gaston has mounds and mounds of heart. That's why wherever you are on Saturday, whatever you may be doing, take a minute during the day and pay tribute to Chris and his career. Winners like him deserve such a show of respect, especially after how he has gone about earning it over the past four years.