Lenape’s Tayvon Gaither Overcame COVID-19, Learned to Overcome Adversity in the Process

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MEDFORD – Lenape High School junior Tayvon Gaither could be identified as one of the most underrated basketball players in South Jersey.

His physicality on both ends of the floor and command of the Indians’ offense has paid dividends for both him and his teammates.

“He has the ability to score from the inside and the outside, and he is a monster on the offensive glass,” Lenape coach Matt Wolf said. “He also brings a lot of versatility on the defensive end because he has the ability to defend any position on the court.”

Gaither’s ability to navigate through defenders might not even be his greatest asset.

It’s his ability to navigate through whichever obstacles life throws at him and sheer determination to overcome adversity that prove to be his best traits.

Following a 65-60 win over Woodrow Wilson on January 26, the Lenape boys basketball program experienced a two-week hiatus as a result of multiple players testing positive for COVID-19.

Gaither was one of the affected players that experienced symptoms first hand.

Delivering the news to his coach proved to be more disappointing than the contraction of the virus itself.

“That was disappointing,” Gaither said. “It was me who brought the news to Coach, telling him that I had COVID and shut us down. I felt like I kind of let the team down. Come to find out, other kids on the team had it, (too). It just let us down. (In terms of the virus), it definitely brings down your stamina.”

Due to the shutdown, Lenape didn’t play a single game following the win on January 26 until February 12.

“The team was extremely disappointed when we found out we were going to be shut down for a couple weeks,” Wolf said. “Obviously, going into the season we knew this was a possibility. The message from the beginning has been ‘control what you can control.’ We can’t control what is going on in this pandemic, but you can always control your attitude and your effort.”

Gaither has controlled what he can control, averaging a career-high 10.6 points per game this season. The junior has helped boost the Indians to a 3-1 start this season after a 50-25 rout of district rival Cherokee on February 16. Gaither tallied 9 points in the triumph.

“Bouncing back after being out for two weeks is really special,” Gaither said. “The first game (against Trenton Catholic) was a test for us to see where we stand. It’s really good that we were able to come back and make a big statement against Cherokee. We knew that they were 7-0. We knew that being out for two weeks might hurt us, but Coach just said, ‘bounce back, we’ll be alright.’”

Lenape has also learned to overcome its limitations. The team is only able to practice a few times a week due to precautionary COVID-19 prevention practices. A lack of pregame preparation time could be a disadvantage for a team competing against a daunting Olympic Conference schedule. For the Indians, it’s just one more obstacle they have proven to overcome.

Excuses aren’t accepted on Hartford Road in Medford.

“It’s certainly a little bit of an adjustment,” Wolf said. “We put a lot of time and effort into scouting our opponent and trying to take away what they do best. So not being able to go over things live in practice can make that more difficult. But at the end of the day, everyone is in the same boat. We have to make the best of every opportunity and we are thankful to just be playing.”

Big moments aren’t uncharted territory for Gaither.

Last season, the junior averaged 9.2 points per game off the bench and helped Lenape reach the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals — in which it lost to eventual SJ Group 4 champion Atlantic City, 61-58.

Gaither’s emergence partnered with the talent of teammate Derek Simpson make the Indians not only a team to watch this season, but a team to watch next year as well.

The junior’s presence is appreciated by all that work with him on a daily basis.

“Tayvon plays such an enormous part on our team,” Wolf said. “I am really proud of Tayvon, and can’t wait to see his game continue to get better. As good of a player Tayvon is on the court, he is even a nicer person off the court. I am extremely proud of the guys this year. They have shown how resilient they can be.”

South Jersey Sports Zone (SJSZ) was co-founded by Kevin Emmons in 2017. The brand covers high school sports and promotes South Jersey pride. If you’d like to keep up with SJSZ, find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

(Photo Credit: Kevin Emmons)

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