Freshman DeYona' Gaston builds a following, even before her first high school basketball game

Courtesy Trent Henley

With size and versatility, Pearland freshman DeYona' Gaston has "star" written all over her.

Sometimes DeYona' Gaston likes to build things up. Other times she tears stuff down.

When she was in the third grade, Gaston had the audacity to try to dunk on a 6-foot rim and knocked down the portable goal in the process.

But that moment aside, Gaston prefers designing and developing to destroying and dismantling. When she was 10, her father, Warren, brought home a surround-sound stereo system. Gaston asked if she could take it out of the box and put it together, and her dad obliged. A few hours later, Gaston, who said she is interested in becoming an architect one day, had accomplished her goal.

"It wasn't that hard," she said. "My dad made it easier for me. He showed me how to operate the tools."

Five years later, Gaston has shown she has all the tools to be an outstanding basketball prospect. Before she has played even one high school game, the Pearland (Texas) freshman has been contacted by big-time college basketball programs.

Among the schools recruiting her are Notre Dame, Louisville, South Carolina, Texas, Oregon, Auburn, North Carolina, Colorado, Minnesota, Texas Tech and Houston.

A 6-foot-2 forward with explosive athleticism, Gaston leads the way on the espnW HoopGurlz Watch List for the 2020 class, which was released Thursday.

The youngest of two daughters, Gaston has learned the game from several people, including her mother, Shanett Gaston, who was a two-year starter as a 6-1 forward at Texas Southern. Her dad, Warren, who is 6-3, never played organized basketball but is athletic, and the couple's oldest daughter, Shanequa, though smaller at 5-10, played NAIA ball at Langston University in Oklahoma.

Moses Ellis, a former AAU coach, was an early influence on Gaston. And in the fourth grade, she began training with coach Tony Rodriguez of HTX Hoops. By the time she was a 5-foot-11 sixth-grader, stories began popping up online, calling her a potential McDonald's All-American.

They might prove to be right.

"She has talent in a lot of areas," said Ed Fry, who has been coaching her in AAU ball for the past two years on his Lady Pro Skills 2020 team. "I have to commend Tony Rodriguez on a lot of that, and we're trying to fine-tune and expand her game."

Lauren Martens, who will coach her at Pearland, is well aware of Gaston's potential.

"Her basketball IQ is much higher than most kids her age," Martens said. "She can bring the ball up and break a press. She shares the ball. Her rebounding, her shooting -- everything is on point.

"She's very versatile, and it's awesome to see. I think she will continue to get better along with our other girls."

Indeed, Pearland returns all five starters from last year. Knowing that, Martens dispatched her veteran players to Pearland Middle School this past spring so they could check out Gaston.

"Our coach wanted us to scout [Gaston] to see how she played," senior guard Cierra Lane said. "My coach already knew [Gaston] would be on varsity and wanted to know if she would work well with us."

Lane left impressed.

"I had heard she was huge, and the stuff she could do at her size was, I guess, abnormal," Lane said. "Once we saw her, she lived up to her hype. She could go in the paint hard, and she could shoot 3s.

"She was making baskets that weren't normal [for] her height. She was bringing the ball down. She was everything to her team. She played the one, two, three, four and five."

Her dad is not surprised. He saw it first-hand when she was in the third grade, when she got a steal and went in for that dunk on the 6-foot rim during a YMCA game.

She nearly put that ball down.

"But the ball came off the front of the rim," Warren said. "[Still], it was a strong, aggressive move. She was tenacious. Everyone was amazed."

Warren said there were parents who were taping that game, and he has been looking for a copy of that video ever since. Gaston is similarly close these days to dunking on a 10-foot rim. But she is building toward that, just like she has put her game together, piece by piece.

Ball-handling was her first skill. Her mother taught her to squeeze tennis balls to improve her grip, and Gaston practiced dribbling for hours in her garage.

Shooting came next. Since the family does not own a basketball hoop, Gaston practiced in her neighbor's driveway. The next phase in the construction of Gaston's game is taking place in the weight room.

Gaston still needs to get stronger, an idea that was reinforced this past summer when she repeatedly got knocked down in the paint by older girls. That sent Gaston to her mom to ask what she could do to improve. The solution was to get a physical trainer, and mother and daughter have been working out together at night in a "boot camp" program.

In addition to getting stronger, Gaston is working on her speed. She plans to run the 100, 200 and 400 for her school's track team this spring.

She already beats all the neighborhood boys in races, much to their displeasure.

"They say I cheat, because I have long legs," Gaston said.

Those long legs, Gaston hopes, will one day carry her to great heights in basketball.

"I dream about that every day."

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