COLUMBIA, Mo. — Twenty-five years ago, Dennis Gates was full of surprises on his recruiting visit to the Bay Area.
Gates, one of several Division I prospects on his high school team in Chicago, was in Berkeley, Calif., visiting the California campus when, on his second day there, coach Ben Braun asked at breakfast if Gates was ready to commit to the Golden Bears. .
“Go read the paper,” he told Braun.
Braun was confused but went to find the Oakland Tribune of that day. There, in the sports section, Cal beat writer Jeff Faraudo’s byline under the headline: “Dennis Gates Commits to Cal”
Gates pulled a quick one on his future coach, future boss and future hype man.
“I said, Dennis, ‘I should get mad at you for not telling me, but I can’t. I’m happy. You made a great decision,’ Braun recalled Monday during a phone interview. “‘Now don’t pull that bullshit on me again.'”
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If Braun isn’t president of the Dennis Gates Fan Club, he is at least a high-ranking member of the cabinet. He makes no apologies for the affection he has for his 42-year-old former player. He has known Gates since his junior year of high school and knew early in his college career that he would one day make a good coach.
Gates will have that chance in Missouri, pending approval from the UM System’s Board of Conservatives, which meets at 7 a.m. Tuesday via Zoom for a closed-door executive session. Gates, Cleveland State’s head coach for the past three seasons, flew from Cleveland to Columbia on Monday and could be officially introduced as Missouri’s new coach by Tuesday afternoon, pending expected board approval. administration.
Who exactly is Missouri hiring in the 42-year-old Chicago native? Braun started to learn more about his future player during this recruiting visit when Gates clarified one thing.
“He didn’t ask a lot of questions,” said Braun, who won 219 games at Cal from 1996-2008. “He didn’t say, ‘Can I play right now? Can I start right away?’ He said, ‘Do I have a shot at being captain? Can I be a leader?’ And I said, ‘Yes, Dennis. We are always looking for leaders. It was his greatest interest. He wanted to be a leader in our program.
The Bears needed it. At the time, Cal’s program was without a home arena and on the verge of absorbing NCAA sanctions for violations that occurred under the previous training regime.
“We literally had no locker room, no workout room and no home gym,” Braun said. “Every day we took a bus to the Warriors facilities (Golden State). The children had a mobile cloakroom in their backpack.
On the pitch, Braun’s program needed stability and a unifying voice. Gates provided both instantly, guiding Cal to the NIT Championship as a rookie and then to NCAA Tournament appearances as a junior and senior.
He’s since coached in the NBA and six college programs, but Gates returns to his guiding ambition as a college freshman that defines his identity in basketball. He traces those roots to his coach at Chicago’s Whitney Young High, George Stanton.
“He said to me, ‘One day you’re going to be a great coach,'” Gates said in a 2020 interview on the ‘Bleav in All Ball Chicago’ podcast, about the famous Windy City basketball players. “I went to the place that was going to allow me to be a freshman captain.”
Long before Berkeley, Dennis Ray Gates II grew up on Chicago’s West Side, the son of Dennis and Shirley Gates, a truck driver and registered nurse, both graduates of Malcolm X College in Chicago. Every day after school at Daniel Webster Elementary School, he would walk with friends to Garfield Park and play the game he had come to love.
“At a very young age, my father, my mother, my uncles, they put a basketball in my hand and it just served as a compass to direct my life and lead me to where I am today. ‘today,” he said in the 2020 interview. “And without it, I don’t know where I would be.”
As teenagers, Gates and his best friends Quentin Richardson and Cordell Henry vowed to each other to go to college together at Marquette — they played for both the AAU Illinois Warriors and Whitney Young — but Marquette withdrew his offer to Gates, he recalled on the podcast. Instead, only Henry played for Marquette while Richardson went to DePaul and Gates headed west.
At Cal, Gates started 34 games over four years, averaged a career-best 5.6 points per game as a primary shooter, but excelled defensively.
“He was really a lockdown advocate,” Braun said. “He would always want to go out and keep the best player on the other team. He did that his whole career until Eddie House (of Arizona State) made us 61 against us (in 2000) to establish the Pac-10 record.
“But,” Braun said with a laugh, “Dennis claims he only had 30 on Dennis.”
Braun’s favorite Gates story comes from another Arizona State game. Late in the second period, Cal was awarded free throws for a technical foul. Braun told Gates to fire the crucial shots.
“He says, ‘No, coach. You have Ryan Forehan-Kelly sitting on the bench. He’s a better free throw shooter. You gotta put it in,” said Braun, who did just that and saw Forehan-Kelly take the win from the line. “Dennis was coaching the team at the time – and at his own expense. What about that?”
After college, Gates had several NBA tryouts, but torn ligaments in his ankle kept him out of the league. As he tried to chart his next steps, Gates was in Los Angeles one day to bounce back for Richardson, now with the Clippers and two seasons into his 13-year NBA career. Clippers assistant Dennis Johnson took a liking to the 22-year-old Gates and set him up as a player development coach. The following summer, while working at the Michael Jordan Youth Camp in Santa Barbara, California, Gates became close to camp director George Raveling, who then connected Gates with the coach of the State of Florida, Leonard Hamilton. Gates would return to Cal for a few seasons as Braun’s assistant coach, with stops in Marquette, northern Illinois, Nevada, then an eight-year run alongside Hamilton at FSU, where he s has established a reputation as one of the best young assistants in the country.
“I still can’t remember the day he hired me or how much he paid me,” Gates said in the 2020 interview. “He just said, ‘Pack your bags. Get on a plane. And here I am at Florida State (eight) years, man. He blessed me. He showed me how to reconcile success as a head coach with being a husband, being a wonderful father and, of course, contributing to the lives of these young people, hugging them. , build a bridge and make sure to train them beyond just basketball, but teach them the nuances of life to help them overcome obstacles.
After making Cleveland State a two-time Horizon League regular season champion in just three years there, Gates is now in line for a new challenge in Mizzou.where, coincidentally, he replaces another coach who considers FSU’s Hamilton a mentor, Cuonzo Martin, who was fired earlier this month after the Tigers’ 12-21 season.
“I’m really happy for Dennis to have this opportunity,” Braun said. “But I’m also happy for Missouri. I wish Cuonzo had a little more time and I don’t know if they gave him as much time as he should have. You can quote me on that. I felt Cuonzo could have kickstarted things like he did early on. But at the same time, I understand this business and people are not as patient as before..”