By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Multiple things have motivated Tae’lyr Gatlin toward his National Signing Day.
The Brighton senior wanted to be the most decorated player in school history. The MVP point guard targeted being the first Division I Basketball signee for the Cardinals since Herley Maclin in 1999. Gatlin might have had additional motivation from all his hours on the court with Team Penny.
Maybe the biggest driving force for Gatlin signing his national letter of intent on National Signing Day in the Brighton Gymnasium to the University of Denver was his head coach and father Stan Gatlin.
“We put a lot of work in,” Coach Gatlin said. “I remember when he first started playing, I thought he was the worst basketball I have ever seen in my life, ‘Ain’t no way this Boy is playing basketball. He’s not playing any basketball. Go play some air hockey or something.’ I was honest with him and he understood. I told him we’re going to get in the gym and work. So here we are.”
Wife/mother Demeka Gatlin prepared herself for the role of referee and official between her husband and son when high school approached. She knew Stan’s honest critique of Tae’lyr’s game would push him to reach his full potential.
“That was one of the things that motivated him and pushed him the hardest – what he said,” Demeka recalled. “What Dad says matters. If Dad says I’m garbage, I have to prove him wrong.”
The Gatlin duo arrived to the Brighton Basketball program in 2014 with Stan taking on boys’ hoops for the first time in the Shelby-Metro area. Meanwhile Tae’lyr was the nationally ranked freshman guard with high expectations after a standout stay at Munford Middle.
After overcoming an knee injury his freshman year, Tae’lyr started to live up and surpass those expectations. Despite several awards, team success and that experience on Team Penny, Gatlin was flying under the radar in recruiting. After interest from Tennessee Tech and a few other local schools, it was a play-date and his standout out performance as a freshman that sparked interest in the Rocky Mountains.
“Four weeks ago Coach Ricardo Patton came in and saw me play in open gym one day,” Tae’lyr recalled. “He saw how I played. He critiqued my game as well as praising me on how I played. I really appreciated that. I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me as a player because I feel like it will help me improve my game.”
The younger Gatlin will join the Pioneer program of Head Coach Rodney Billups, brother of NBA All-Star guard Chauncey. The elder Gatlin said the Denver mascot is appropriate for what his son can offer any program in America.
“They’re getting a kid who is a program-changer,” Coach Gatlin said. “They’re getting a kid who has floated under the radar for whatever reason. He has the ability to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime type of players.”
Tae’lyr has been a part of trailblazing Cardinal teams the past three years including the 2016-17 group that reached the school’s first Sub-State game. The 2017 District 13-3A MVP had 21 points in that Sectional game against the East Mustangs.
Gatlin has one more season to add to his Brighton legacy and then it’s off to Colorado.
“I’m happy with the situation because of the coaches,” Demeka said. “The difference between this particular and the coaches who came to see Tae’lyr and watch him play he was real with him. Unlike the other, everyone else gave him the same old, same old.
“They gave him the same talk,” she added. “Nobody else put anything behind it. So when he came, he told Tae’lyr exactly what we’ve been telling him about his performance — how he’s able to turn it on and turn it off. That he needed to see consistency and that he could do it. He was just real with him.”
Both Demeka and Stand have kept it real with Tae’lyr over the years helping him to maintain grades and a respectful standing in the community.
“This is a great accomplishment for our son,” Stan said. “I’m just so proud of him for preserving through injuries and putting the work in to be seen. He created this opportunity in the classroom as well.
“They’re getting a young man that I respect and that I love dearly,” he added. “I’m hard on him for a reason. I’ve tried to build mental toughness in him by being so hard on him. I’ve always said, ‘Anybody who could come through my program and play for me for four years – they can play for anybody.’ I’m demanding.”
Coach Gatlin admitted he might have been harder on his son more than any player who entered his program over the years.
“I can be a jerk sometimes,” he acknowledged. “But I truly love my kids, any of them that come through my program. But I’m definitely going to be demanding on them and I’m going to expect much out of them.
“I feel like all of them are my kids anyway,” Coach Gatlin continued. “But this one is definitely sweet because its my own flesh and blood. It was times I felt I wasn’t doing him enough justice because he wasn’t getting recruited like I thought he should be recruited. To see this day actually come to fruition, I’m elated. So it means a lot to me.”
Demeka said signing day was a reward to all involved.
“These are the steps the Lord is ordering us to take him,” she said. “We both feel comfortable he’ll be OK.
“It is exhausting trying to be there for both of them mentally, emotionally,” Demeka added. “It is exhausting. That’s my job. I’m blessed to be able to do that. I wouldn’t change any of it.”
Tae’lyr simply said “I love you,” to his mother for her efforts over the years to balance Coach/player and father/son.
The younger Gatlin said signing day was validation and a blessing. But hearing his Dad say he is one of the best player to pass through his program was the best reward.
“That day I really didn’t recognize it,” Tae’lyr reflected. “I started listening to him because he’s very seditious. He knows what he’s talking about. I knew it was going to be kind of tough because he’s always hard on me. But I know he just wants the best for me.
“I can assure you it has not been a breeze,” he concluded. “I appreciate what he’s done for me. Sometimes he tends to forget but when he does I really do appreciate it. I was motivated to make him proud. If he wasn’t the father figure he is, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.