This Mizzou Hoops offseason has felt longer than most.
Perhaps that’s a byproduct of the 2021-2022 season. Despite a slew of reinforcements from mid-major schools, Cuonzo Martin couldn’t do enough to save his job at Missouri and was fired in March. His final season was the definition of a slog; the team endured brutal losses to rivals like Illinois and Kansas while limping to a 5-13 conference record. Interest was lost much sooner than that, arguably when the Tigers lost to Kansas City in early November.
Dennis Gates was hired less than two weeks after Martin’s dismissal. While the move was met with some shock and mild derision at the time, it quickly turned into the high point of the year for many Tiger fans. Gates rebuilt the roster with a series of transfer coups, starting with the country’s top two JUCO players, continuing with a few of his own mid-major stalwarts and culminating with the arrival of star guard Isiaih Mosley from Missouri State.
Oh, and he’s currently got the 13th ranked class in 2023.
For months now, fans have waited to see Gates’ first team in action. But before we can dig into the nitty-gritty of what’s coming — which we’ll be doing very soon at Rock M Nation — it’s probably helpful to look back and take stock.
We’ve gathered some of the new beat and staff writers to examine Dennis Gates’ first offseason as Missouri’s coach. We asked them what they think about the staff, the recruiting and everything in between.
We’ve done plenty of evaluating on the Dennis Gates hire... but not a lot on the hiring he has done. What do you think about the staff Gates has put together in his first season as coach?
Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: Dennis Gates’ new Director of Scouting and Analytics, Michael Fly, piques my interest a lot. Fly spent four seasons as head coach at FGCU, a school he had been with for 11 seasons. To be able to pull a guy who had had substantial success in his time there (Sweet 16, 3 NCAA Tourneys) away from a head coaching job to join your staff is fairly impressive. I can see him being an asset in more ways than just his job description.
Overall, this staff has a lot the same faces from Gates’ staff at Cleveland State. The pros: established chemistry, continuity, and likely no internal issues. The con: this staff is entering a much different world than the Horizon League. There will be bumps in the road as they adjust to the SEC in year one, but the fact that Gates was willing to bring so many of his guys into this staff means that he has a lot of faith and comfortability with them, and I would rather have that than a staff full of big names that can’t work together.
Brandon Haynes, Beat Writer: The biggest takeaway I see from the coaches that Gates surrounded himself with is experience, especially among the assistants. Associate Head Coach Charlton ‘CY’ Young brings almost 30 years of coaching experience, is an excellent recruiter and was a part of a Florida State program that developed 13 NBA Draft picks, including Scottie Barnes. Assistant coaches David ‘Dickey’ Nutt and Kyle Smithpeters don’t bring as much experience at the Power Six level, but each had extended success in their previous tenures.
When looking at the supporting staff, the main thing that stands out is the ties back to Cleveland State. Like Parker said, the adjustment to SEC play will be one possible con to this decision, but familiarity and trust provides an over-arching positive. A lack of experience in Power Six conference play may be the downside to Gates’ overhaul of the coaching staff, but the recruiting and developmental side will pay dividends for a team that is looking to rebuild into a NCAA Tournament contender in the next couple years.
Jackson Meyer, Staff Writer: Overall, I am pleased with the staff that Dennis Gates has put together. Charlton Young was the first assistant Gates added to the staff, and it’s already paying dividends. Young is going to be the primary recruiter on this staff, and he has been on the road a good majority of his time here so far. Young and Gates have a tight bond due to their time together at Florida State where they learned under future HOF coach, J. Leonard Hamilton.
Kyle Smithpeters is another solid addition. Smithpeters spent his last 10 years at John A. Logan College, making it one of the most respected amongst the JUCO level. Smithpeters boasts an overall record of 241-70 at John A. Logan and is sure to bring experience to the staff. It’ll be interesting to see how he shifts from the JUCO level and makes the jump to the SEC.
Gates pulled a Cleveland State redux and remade Mizzou’s roster from the ground up. Apart from landing Isiaih Mosley — which appears to be the consensus signing of the year — what’s your favorite roster move Gates and his staff have made?
Parker Gillam: Personally, I actually like him bringing in his Cleveland State guys for a couple of reasons. First, with a new head coach and a team that lost so many players from last season, chemistry and continuity were always going to be major concerns. Well, you now have several guys in Ben Sternberg, Mabor Majak, D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion who are comfortable with Dennis Gates and can help teach their teammates what Coach wants from this team. And, although none of them are going to be offensive superstars, they will bring plenty of grit and hustle to this team, something everybody needs. These former Vikings can all be menaces on defense and will set the emotional tone for this team. They provide a bridge from Gates to all of the new players on this team, and I can see that helping in the transition early in the season.
Brandon Haynes: While I do enjoy the Cleveland State guys joining Gates in Columbia, I will go with the commitment of Aidan Shaw, who actually de-committed before coming back to the Tigers. The 4-star forward has already brought energy, flare and enthusiasm throughout the Mizzou campus while also showing support for fellow Mizzou teams. After the departure of Trevon Brazile, losing Shaw could have made the future bleak, but instead, the staff got their guy. Shaw will have the opportunity to shape his own future alongside Gates, making it a story Tiger fans will continue to watch year-in and year-out. (Don’t sleep on Noah Carter, either!)
Jackson Meyer: I’m going to agree with Parker and say that it’s a big deal for Gates to bring some Cleveland State guys along with him. D’Moi Hodge is an excellent two-way guard who will provide a threat on the perimeter. Tre Gomillion will be a gritty and tough defender and will also use his larger frame at the guard position to his advantage. Mabor Majak has the potential to contribute down low, especially on the glass. Continuity is going to be important this season (as it is every year), especially at the start of a rebuild.
It hasn’t all been about recruiting and roster building. Dennis Gates appears to be taking a much more forward-facing presence than his predecessor, maintaining an active social media presence and revamping fan relations with events like Mizzou Madness. Do you think his efforts will revamp the fan base?
Parker Gillam: I certainly think he has won over a fair number of fans with his fun social media presence over the offseason, but I don’t think it will have as big of an impact come tip-off. At the end of the day, if Mizzou sports fans have proven anything over the years, it is that they support people based off of results. If the Tigers struggle in year one, then all of his trendy social media posts will turn into ammo that Mizzou Twitter uses against him.
Overall, though, I would rather have a coach that uses social media well than one that does not. The energy and insight he brings online translates exactly to how he is as a person.
The events have been very encouraging, and from a students’ perspective, I never thought that the basketball team was well-advertised in my previous years on campus. Mizzou Madness was a great event that got nearly everybody talking about the team in some form or fashion, and for a new head coach, all you want is for people at least be paying attention to your team.
Brandon Haynes: Mizzou Madness provided the one of the first glimpses of how Gates interacts with Mizzou fans in the real world, and honestly, it made for a big success. I think his vision is to transform the Tigers into not only a perennial contender, but to establish a strong fan base that can support the Mizzou team through both the good times and bad.
The evolution of social media is making that reality possible, especially considering how much effort Gates puts into connecting with fans and promoting events outside of just basketball. His passion, although it’s a lot to some, definitely brings a healthier balance on the totem pole of Mizzou’s coaches. With the help of DRF, I’m sure creative events like Mizzou Madness will become a staple in Gates’ tenure, making the fan experience more than just a courtside ticket.
Jackson Meyer: The efforts have helped, and it certainly can’t hurt. Mizzou Madness was a creative event that left people excited to see more of the product, which is all you can ask for. Major credit to DRF and the rest of the athletic department for conjuring up creative ideas like that. I really enjoy Dennis’ social media presence, in particular, his whiteboard Wednesdays. I think that it will help fan interest, but the team has to prove it’s competent for fans to show up in large numbers.
It can’t all be positive. Everyone seems to be on board with the rebuild Gates is leading, but is there anything you think Gates and Co. could’ve done better headed into the 2022 season?
Parker Gillam: I understand that the roster was always going to be bound to lose as many transfers as they did, so while that isn’t ideal, I can’t complain too much about it.
For me, I don’t necessarily have any major gripes outside of Gates maybe being too mid-major focused in the transfer portal this season. There is certainly some high-level basketball played at those levels, and some of those players have been able to transfer up to the Power 6 and have great success. However, the talent jump in a league like the SEC is immense compared to the Horizon League, and I can see at least 2-3 of the transfers taking considerable steps back due to changed roles/improved competition (see the 2021 Missouri Tigers). Mid-major transfers are just always very high-risk, high-reward, and that is slightly unsettling going into a season in which 3-4 of them will be getting significant minutes. This is certainly nitpicking, but it seems like this team has a low floor and a medium ceiling unless every transfer really pans out.
Brandon Haynes: Honestly, it is hard to find too many negatives. The loss of Trevon Brazile to Arkansas hurts, but that was the cost of firing Cuonzo Martin. As a result, Gates retooled and brought in several pieces from mid-majors who will look to help the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.
A couple areas where Gates could have loaded up, or at least targeted heavier, are high percentage 3PT threats and front court players. The additions of Nick Honor, D’Moi Hodge and Isiaih Mosley will definitely help from beyond the arc, but in a play calling scheme that will lean toward defensive, there is always a need for sharpshooters. Mabor Majak, on the other hand, comes to the Tigers as a 7-2 center, providing height in the post. However, the frontcourt depth does not extend much further than that. Carter, Shaw and forward Mohamed Diarra will look to provide deeper depth, but Mizzou will likely send out small-ball lineups with an emphasis on quick, efficient scoring paired with elite defense. It’ll be interesting to see how the pieces come together in a competitive SEC that will feature no shortage of talent.
Jackson Meyer: I’m fairly optimistic, but I will say that I’m concerned about the front court. I think Gates and company did a good job at building a solid backcourt, but I’m not sure if this team will have a true center, at least one who produces at a high level.