Georgia Tech wing Tafara Gapare likely has best basketball in front of him

Georgia Tech forward Tafara Gapare during a recent game. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Georgia Tech forward Tafara Gapare during a recent game. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech’s Tafara Gapare sees what everyone else sees.

“I know I have a lot of talent, it’s just turning it into production,” he said. “Finding ways to get my rhythm going, just finding little things that give me energy to do other things, create for my teammates, create for myself. To me it’s kind of hard in this game because a team can just sit there and play zone so the paint is kind of closed. At the same time, for me, I feel like I need space to get to where I want to get to. I’ve never really played in such a tight environment.”

A 6-foot-9, 206-pound wing, Gapare is still working and striving and yearning to break out as a difference-maker. The Yellow Jackets are waiting for that to happen, too.

But there have been flashes of brilliance already from the New Zealander.

He had 20 points and six rebounds in Tech’s double-overtime win against Penn State in December, a performance that turned heads at Madison Square Garden. A week later Gapare scored nine points, blocked four shots and grabbed seven rebounds in a victory at Hawaii.

Gapare’s length, his ability to gazelle across the entire floor and his highlight-reel dunks all should make him a matchup nightmare for the opposition and a prime prospect to play in the NBA one day. But translating those attributes into continuous output has somewhat held Gapare back.

“He has so much God-given ability, but after a while we gotta turn that God-given ability into production,” Tech coach Damon Stoudamire said Jan. 15 on his weekly radio show. “We need production at a high rate from him because when he’s on top of his game, he’s one of the better players on this team and, I think, could be one of the better players in this league. But it’s just the consistency part of it.”

Gapare grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, the son of two (relatively tall) parents who have degrees in forestry and who moved to New Zealand from Zimbabwe when Gapare’s older sister was just a toddler. It was Gapare’s sister, Tanaka Gapare, who took to the sport of basketball as a youth, so Tafara and Tanaka would wake up at 6 a.m. most days and train on the basketball court before school – Tafara said he did his own thing off to the side while Tanaka fine-tuned her game.

Tafara also played rugby, cricket and some water polo. But it was basketball that kept drawing him in season after season.

Gapare, always one of the taller kids in his community, had the fortune of being a budding basketball star in the same city where Steven Adams had arrived years earlier to play basketball for Scots College and be trained by the late Kenny McFadden. Adams would go on to star in the ACC for Pittsburgh, become the 12th overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft and develop a legitimate professional career (Adams is on the roster in Memphis).

In 2014, Gapare, then 11 years old, had been given a pair of Adams’ size-19 shoes. Gapare reportedly auctioned the sneakers for $1,510 to pay for a trip to Las Vegas to compete in an AAU basketball tournament. A few months later, Gapare was awarded the Steven Adams Scholarship, the first of its kind, to attend Scots College.

“I basically followed in his footsteps,” Gapare said. “The whole time I was at his high school, they would take me through everything he was doing – and I was doing the same stuff.”

Credit: Chad Bishop/AJC

Georgia Tech coach Damon Stoudamire looks back on the team's win over North Carolina and looks ahead to Saturday's game against N.C. State.

Gapare recalls his first scholarship offer to play college basketball in the United States was from George Washington when he was 15. Since he didn’t quite comprehend the recruiting process, Gapare committed to play for George Washington before moving to America to spend a season at the South Kent School in Connecticut.

Since the academic calendar in New Zealand doesn’t coincide with the American one, Gapare didn’t set foot on U.S. soil until November 2021. By the time he finished with his lone prep season in the States, Gapare had become the one of the top recruits in the class of 2023, even though he averaged a modest seven points and four rebounds per game over half a season.

“He got thrown right into it at the highest level possible in prep school,” South Kent coach Raphael Chillous told the AJC in June. “But at the end of the day, we had some talks, and he figured out the things you can get away with being that talented in New Zealand doesn’t work here. He worked hard to get better at it.”

George Washington, meanwhile, went through a coaching change and Gapare, now with a better grasp of the recruiting world, spent the summer of 2022 playing AAU ball and collecting more scholarship offers than he could count. He and his mother took a visit to DePaul, and in June 2022, Gapare pledged to play for the Blue Demons.

But by the end of the summer, Gapare had changed his mind again when he began to have a bad feeling about relocating to Chicago. He instead opted to reclassify to the 2022 signing class and sign with Massachusetts ahead of the 2022-23 season.

Despite not arriving in Amherst, Massachusetts, until November because of a visa issue, Gapare played in 30 games for the Minutemen. He came off the bench in all 30 of those contests to average 3.4 points and 2.1 rebounds, then entered the NCAA’s transfer portal in March.

A month later he decided to head to Tech.

“(Stoudamire) recruited me well, just showed me things that I wanted to see, how I could play, how I could get to where I wanted to get to,” Gapare said.

Gapare was in the Tech starting lineup Nov. 6 in the Jackets’ regular-season opener, one of six games Gapare has started this season. He played a little less than 16 minutes, scored a bucket and grabbed a rebound in his debut, a win over Georgia Southern. The stats have been erratic since.

In seven games this season Gapare has been held scoreless. In five games he has played less than 10 minutes. In only four games has he pulled down four rebounds or more.

But then there are nights like Dec. 16 in New York. Or Tuesday against No. 3 North Carolina, in which Gapare had eight rebounds and three blocks to go with six points. It’s on those days that Gapare proves how much he can impact a game.

“It’s hard to get me excited when I know (he has) so much more to give. I appreciate where he’s come, how far he has come, but he’s got so much more to give. I want it all out of him,” Stoudamire said. “He’s a long, athletic version of all the greats that have played the game. The more confidence he has in his approach to the game, if he continues to have the same approach, and even get better and beyond and get addicted to that approach of being a hard worker, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

Gapare, who missed three games earlier this season with a concussion, visited Tech’s campus in the spring with his mother. She has urged her son to take interest in a career in finance. Gapare said he wants to own his own business one day, or perhaps become a CEO.

Meanwhile, on the basketball court, Stoudamire has implored Gapare to, “get lost in the little things,” like becoming a better defender, a better rebounder, a better screener and better at running the floor for transition dunks and layups. Doing those things will lead to a better version of Gapare and, ultimately, a better Jackets team as a whole.

Gapare and Tech (10-11, 3-7 ACC) play at North Carolina State (14-7, 6-4) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

“I think just growing my mindset, growing my knowledge of the game more. Understanding where I need to be at the right time, especially on the court,” he said. “Off the court, just taking care of my body. From there I just see things going up and up and up.”