Myles Dread led Gonzaga into its home gym against St. Mary's Ryken in mid-December, shooting a quick glance in his parents' direction as he ran onto the court. Through warm-ups, he got loose by moving around to different pop instrumental songs as he slapped the basketball in between his palms, waiting for the pregame clock to hit zero.
A joke or two with teammates on the bench, a grin at his coach, another echoing slap of the ball, and Dread was ready for another game. The 18-year-old senior may be at the front and center of Gonzaga basketball this season — the "natural leader," as others have described — but to Dread, he's still just being himself. The only difference this year is the stage is now his.
"Pretty much every step of the way, he has answered the call," Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said.
With the departure of Miami freshman Chris Lykes due to graduation and a torn anterior cruciate ligament sidelining Prentiss Hubb, a four-star Notre Dame signee, Dread leads a No. 2-ranked Gonzaga team with all eyes on him. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard said he has hopes of becoming the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Player of the Year and winning another championship with Gonzaga.
"I talked to Chris [Lykes] on the phone a couple days ago, and he's been giving me a lot of help and support," Dread said. "I'm used to being a leader, but I'm not used to being the leader. It's a different variation with having the ball in your hands all the time."
Dread, a Penn State signee, has averaged 16 points per game this season, with a standout 32-point performance on Dec. 5 against Takoma Academy in which he knocked down five three-pointers. He made five threes again in his very next game, in the first round of the Gonzaga Classic on Dec. 8. While his smooth release from beyond the three-point arc attracted chatter, he also won MVP and recorded his 1,000th career point in the same tournament.
"He took it on as a personal challenge, like, 'Oh, people don't think we can do this without Prentiss, so I really want to make sure I can do everything I can to help us have the best year we can as a team,'" said Aaron Dread, Myles' father.
Earlier in his high school career, Myles was considered a "tweener" without a true position. Over the summer, he continued to make the deliberate switch to shooting guard with the Nike-affiliated Team Takeover, a D.C.-based AAU program, and he stood out in his new role.
But while some can see this season as a chance for Dread to get his just due, Dread is feeling more sadness than giddiness with the loss of Hubb for the year. Dread even wrote a poem about Hubb for his poetry class, titled "Injury."
Dread's love of poetry stemmed from his grandfather having him and his cousins recite poems during the car rides to school when he lived in Detroit. He grew up there, then moved to Delaware for a short span before his family moved to Burtonsville, Md. when he was in the sixth grade, where they have lived ever since.
Through poetry, Dread's charismatic personality started to show through. One minute he can be stern and serious, and in the next his poems relay joy and glee.
Last year on his birthday, Dread got a tattoo of the last two lines of his favorite poem — "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley — on his chest, which reads: "I am the captain of my fate:/ I am the master of my soul."
They are lines that ring true for Dread, who with Gonzaga has acted as a mentor on and off the court. His younger brother, Malcolm, is a freshman on varsity this year, as the two are playing on the same team together for the first time.
Myles has been stepping in to act as teacher as Malcolm fills the role as the student. Sometimes, Malcolm admits, it's annoying. But most of the time, he knows it's Myles being Myles, especially now that it's his job to be a role model for the team.
"It's like we are bonding more together," Malcolm said. "Just me being brother-to-brother versus just us being on the court together."
Myles was the first player to commit to Penn State for the class of 2018, back in July 2016. It was during a time when Dread and his family felt like he wasn't getting the attention and offers he deserved. Dread grew frustrated with the number of offers he was receiving compared to his peers, and he was left wondering when he would get his shot.
But now, Dread has left the questioning behind him, focusing on his role with his current team — and his future beyond that.
"He has always been that guy pitted as the underdog and in a lot of ways, in my opinion, has never really got his just due," Turner said. "I think for him, he is relishing the opportunity to be in this role and early on in our season we are seeing the success in it."