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‘He Gets His Guys’: How Dennis Gates uses JUCO talent to rebuild

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Increasingly, the transfer portal has become a go-to for coaches looking to quickly retool a roster. But Missouri’s new head man found success through a different market.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 05 Purdue Fort Wayne at Cleveland State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the days after news broke that Dennis Gates would become Mizzou Basketball’s new head coach, talk has focused on numerous qualities that he may bring. One in particular is the new coach’s ability to quickly supplement a roster that finished the 2022 campaign 12-21.

There’s no question that recruiting is a vital component to building a successful basketball program. Beyond looking at players Coach Gates’s previous programs have landed, how does one quantify the amorphous phrase, “recruiting ability?” In some ways, it lies in the eyes of the beholder.

To put some weight behind this discussion, Rock M reached out to several individuals who have seen Gates at work on the recruiting trail.

Jeremy Shulman has been the head coach at Eastern Florida State College for the past decade. Prior to that, he spent time at Eastern Mississippi Community College and with a highly respected AAU program in Tennessee. He has a host of experience sitting with coaches from high major programs while they recruit players involved with his program(s).

Additionally, we spoke with Brandon Goble, the Co-Owner of Player Advocate LLC, which encompasses both JUCO Advocate and Verbal Commits, and covers both international and domestic prospects. He has spent time as a scout in the collegiate ranks as well as the NBA.

Both individuals we spoke with have known Coach Gates since his time serving as an assistant to Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. When asked about the qualities Coach Gates can bring to Mizzou’s program, there was effusive praise.

“Coach Gates is a brilliant individual,” Shulman said. “He’s got a great eye and mind for the game. He sees the game differently than most coaches do.”

“Coach Gates’ character is beyond reproach,” Goble added. “His players love him. He is demanding and holds guys accountable, but only recruits players that respond well to that. He puts in so much effort on the relationship side with his players.”

“He’s one of the most genuine guys in coaching. You may not like what he tells you, but he’s honest and is always committed to what he needs and wants. There is zero flakiness with him.”

Shulman can speak more directly to Gates’s abilities as a recruiter, as he signed one of Shulman’s players, Cleveland State point guard Brody Boyer, and has recruited other prospects with whom Shulman has worked.

“I’ve been in the room with Coach Gates and recruits,” Shulman said. “He commands the room. His presence is incredibly impressive. I’ve had coaches from High Major programs all over the country in my gym. Coach Gates stands out.”

When we asked for Goble’s thoughts on what Gates can bring as a recruiter, he backed up Shulman’s thoughts.

“Gates is an elite level recruiter,” Gobles stated. “Knows what he wants, is unwilling to compromise, and gets his guys. He’s not distracted by shiny things. He has his ‘type’ which is hard working, character driven, and TOUGH.”

Goble offered an example of Gates’s ability to not only win recruiting battles, but also to identify undervalued talent. He spoke directly of the recruitment of Tre Gomillion. Gomillion was playing for Gordon State College at the time Gates first noticed him.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 21 Youngstown State at Cleveland State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“The first time I really got to see him (Gates) work was at JA48, an elite Junior College event,” Goble said. “He was still with FSU and recruiting for them, but he’s so good at evaluating that he was making mental notes on EVERYONE. When he got to Cleveland State, one of the first calls he made was to Tre Gomillion, a qualifier who had zero recruitment. Gates brought him in with no other offers; he was expecting to go back to JUCO.”

In Gates’s first season at the helm of Cleveland State, nine of his thirteen players logged their first minutes in a Viking uniform, reflecting the major rehabilitation project undertaken when Gates signed on only months before the season began. Gomillion played a big part of that turnaround process. He was named the 2020-2021 Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year for a team that secured the Horizon League Championship, Horizon League Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament qualifier in only year two of the rebuild.

“Gates saw a star in him that very few others did,” Goble said.

Sure enough, three days after being officially welcomed as the new head coach, Gates appears to have proven these comments prophetic. He secured a commitment from 6’10” Mohamed Diarra of Garden City Community College, ranked by JUCO Recruiting as the top prospect in the 2022 Junior College class. [Editor’s Note: You can see JUCO Recruiting’s detailed scout of Diarra in yesterday’s Q&A with Matt Harris.]

The speed of which Gates secured this commitment may surprise some, but if you listen to those who’ve worked with him for the past decade, it shouldn’t.

It’s not as easy as identifying talent or convincing players to sign on, though. Goble listed a number of Gates’ qualities that go well beyond recruiting.

“Lots of coaches are great at recruiting, but maybe lack the professional finesse required to be successful at the High Major level,” Goble said. “Or maybe they are great talkers but don’t have the relationships where people want to help them. Gates has it all.”