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Whitefish Basketball Player Gage Vasquez Making a Name for Himself

February 2, 2012
Northwest Montana A Conference


Whitefish Basketball Player Gage Vasquez Making a Name for Himself
Whitefish senior leads Bulldogs in pursuit of state tournament

Whitefish senior Gage Vasquez centers up to the basket to take a shot during practice at Whitefish High School. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

WHITEFISH — In the Vasquez family, almost everyone wrestles. There’s Rich, a former NAIA national champion who still coaches locally. There’s Will, a former standout at Columbia Falls High School. And there’s a whole group of younger Vasquezes carrying on the family sport today; even one of Will’s female nieces wrestles. But there’s one noticeable exception – Will’s oldest son, Gage.

Standing 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Gage has distinguished himself with a strong athletic pedigree all his own.

The 18-year-old senior has led a resurgence of success in two sports at Whitefish High School this year.

During the fall, the all-state wide receiver helped the Bulldogs make the playoffs in football for the first time since 2008.

Now he’s leading a similar turnaround on the basketball court as the Bulldogs chase their first state tournament berth in three seasons. Gage, a three-year starter and all-state guard/forward, is Class A’s second-leading scorer, averaging roughly 20 points a game. He’s second in Northwestern A in rebounding, averaging eight per game. Over the weekend, Gage had 29 points and 14 rebounds in a 72-50 win over Frenchtown that improved Whitefish to 7-6 overall and 3-1 in Northwestern A.

With less than a month before the divisional tournament, Whitefish is battling Polson for runner-up in Northwestern A. The Bulldog’s top rival, Columbia Falls, owns the top spot with an undefeated conference record and will host the divisional starting Feb. 23. Gage and the Bulldogs will vie for a top-two seed at the divisional hoping for a trip to the state tournament, something they haven’t accomplished since Vasquez was a freshman.

“I know with this team we can,” Gage said of advancing to state. “That would be a nice goal to achieve, especially being senior year.”

Gage had to make a choice four years ago as a freshman – basketball or wrestling. He had wrestled from an early age and even won Little Guy Championships in fifth and sixth grade. But after a growth spurt, Gage found himself the tallest in a family full of wrestlers, and that had its disadvantages. Will Vasquez realized his oldest son might not fit on the wrestling mat, so he introduced Gage to basketball early on. It stuck. Even a few teasing words from relatives couldn’t detach the ball from Gage’s hands. It helped, too, that his father had his son’s back all the way.

“My uncle (Rich) was a little bit of the opposite,” Gage said smiling, “but my dad said whatever I want to do, he’ll support me no matter what.”

Will and Gage began playing one-on-one games constantly. The contests ended up becoming father-son bonding experiences and the original training ground for Gage’s future all-state prep career.

“We still battle it out,” Will said recently. “I used to get the best of him but now he’s obviously getting the best of me. That was one way that we would always go at in a fun way. It’s definitely been a big time bonding thing for us.”

That bonding has held tight. Gage credits his father as the person he looks up to most.

“He’s just been really truthful and open with me about his life and some of the mistakes he’s made and he hopes I don’t make the same mistakes he made,” Gage said.

Will has always emphasized a few things to his son – get good grades, have strong character and a good work ethic. They appear to have sunk in. Gage was academic all-state in football this year. He worked hard during the summer before football season and earned an invite to the prestigious East-West Shrine Game. Colleges have taken notice, particularly Montana State University, which has expressed interest in Gage playing football, according to his father.

“He’s just a quiet, nice kid but he steps on the floor and he’s a competitor,” Mark Casazza, Bulldogs boys basketball coach, said. “And nobody works harder in the offseason.”

The result is both Gage and the Bulldogs playing some of the best ball inside the Dawg House in years. Gage was a freshman on the last Whitefish team to advance to the postseason.

Gage Vasquez takes a shot from while running drills during a recent basketball practice at Whitefish High School.

“Just being there – the huge stadium, being on that court, the atmosphere – it was a great experience,” he said. “I’m remembering that experience this season.”

He’s motivated by his memories of being a young boy going to games in the Dawg House when the stands were packed with raucous fans. Those were the good old days, and Gage wants them back.

“That’s what we’re trying to work for, to bring that Bulldog pride back,” Gage said.

But his supreme motivation comes from his family. He said he often thinks of his late aunt Dianna, a former Whitefish High standout who died years ago in a boat accident. He thinks of how he can best represent and make proud his father and mother, Jennifer Combs, and his grandparents and the rest of the Vasquez clan that cheer him on.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t still catch a little flack at home.

“My uncle makes jokes about basketball players being sissies or wimps: ‘They’re not tough enough to wrestle so they play basketball,’” Gage said smiling. “At the family dinners, I’ll still get that.”

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