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Looking back on some of Dennis Gates’ biggest recruiting successes

Mizzou’s new coach has a reputation as an ace recruiter, so let’s look at some of the best players he’s helped sign.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 12 Detroit-Mercy at Cleveland State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rise and shine, Missouri basketball fans. A new day is dawning.

Dennis Gates is going to be the new head coach whether or not the guys screaming in our Facebook comments want it or not. His arrival in Columbia is imminent, and he’s already working behind the scenes to assemble his staff. The time to analyze the hire has come and gone. Now it’s time to figure out what Gates is bringing with him.

We’ve done some light profiling of Gates already, but it’s time to start digging a little deeper. Where does Gates come from? How do his teams profile? What does his history say about Mizzou’s future? And, perhaps of most interest to many of you, can he recruit?

The short answer to that last question is definitively, “Yes.” While Cuonzo Martin had a reputation as a recruiter when he came to Missouri, the circumstances are somewhat different. Assistants are usually the ones hitting the recruiting trail hardest, scouting prospects, evaluating fit, etc. While the head coach undoubtedly plays a part, a player usually doesn’t sign up without the exhaustive prep work done by assistants.

Across the past two decades, Gates has proven that he has an eye for talent and a knack for getting their signatures. To get a better idea of the types of players he’s scouted in the past, we rounded up a list of Gates’ biggest recruiting victories. There are quite a few current and former NBA players on this list, but pay attention to the variety as well. There are some one-and-dones, yes, but also four-year foundation pieces, lightly recruited late-bloomers and even a transfer. While this won’t tell us exactly how he will fare recruiting players to the black and gold, it should round out our knowledge of Gates’ history hitting the pavement.

Before we start, one important note. While none of the players on this list fit the bill, Gates is known to have extensive connections in the world of junior college basketball, specifically in Florida. When he took over the Cleveland State job, he rebuilt a roster in almost a week using those connections. So while this list primarily focuses on high school recruits, we expect that JUCO prospects may be a factor in how Gates chooses to build his rosters moving forward.

Dwayne Bacon

Florida Gulf Coast v Florida State Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Recruiting Ranking: 5-star, 0.9942 (247Sports); 5-star (Rivals)

College Averages (Per Game): 28.8 minutes, 16.5 points, 5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1 steal

Pro Career: Drafted 40th Overall (2017 NBA Draft); Charlotte Hornets (2017-2020), AS Monaco Basket (France) (2021-Present)

Summary: The first player on our list came in the middle of Gates’ time on Leonard Hamilton’s staff at Florida State. The Seminoles were in the midst of a three-year tournament drought and desperate for traction. That’s when, in 2015, the Seminoles signed Dwayne Bacon, a consensus five-star out of the famed Oak Hill Academy. Bacon was an immediate hit in Tallahassee, where he led the team in usage during his true freshman season. Florida State jumped 51 spots in the KenPom ratings, but couldn’t secure an NCAA Tournament berth for the fourth straight year.

Year two of Dwayne Bacon was a different story. The sophomore improved his offensive efficiency across the board and became more the type of defender that Hamilton desires. His improvement earned him a spot on the All-ACC Second Team, and his leadership helped secure Florida State a No. 3 seed in the Tournament. Bacon jumped for the draft at season’s end. While his commitment wasn’t the only factor in Florida State finally breaking their NCAAT drought — other members of this list also played a part — his arrival set the standard of a successful new era in Tallahassee. The Seminoles would run to four straight tournament appearances — it would’ve been five had COVID not cancelled the 2020 tournament — including an Elite Eight appearance in 2018.

Malik Beasley

Florida State v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Recruiting Ranking: 4-star, 0.9853 (247); 4-star (Rivals)

College Averages (Per Game): 29.8 minutes, 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 38.7 3P%

Pro Career: Drafted 19th Overall (2016 NBA Draft); Denver Nuggets (2016-2020), Minnesota Timberwolves (2020-Present)

Summary: Before Florida State was grabbing protected seeds year-in-and-year-out, Leonard Hamilton was building a pipeline of top talent with the help of his staff, including Gates. Malik Beasley would arrive on campus one season before the Seminoles reeled off four straight Tournament appearances, but he impressed enough that one season would be all he spent in the program. Before that he was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team, the first of two members that the Seminoles would roster in consecutive years.

Beasley, contrary to Hamilton and Gates’ reputation as defensive stalwarts, was much more of a threat on the offensive end. His rangy jump shot, size and tenacity at the rim gave the Seminoles a dependable back-court scoring threat that would put them squarely in the NCAA picture. A five-game losing streak late in the season would tank their chances at a bid, but Beasley’s campaign was enough to send him quickly to the NBA, where he’s still cashing checks. He would be the first in a long line of Seminoles to go pro after signing under Gates and Hamilton.

Jonathan Isaac

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 09 ACC Tournament - Florida State v Virginia Tech Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Recruiting Ranking: 5-star, .09972 (247); 5-star (Rivals)

College Averages (Per Game): 26.2 minutes, 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 blocks

Pro Career: Drafted 6th Overall (2017 NBA Draft); Orlando Magic (2017-Present)

Summary: Only one player in Mizzou history has been drafted higher than Jonathan Isaac, the sure-fire one-and-done prospect Florida State signed in 2016 — Steve Stipanovich, who went second overall. Perhaps no player on this list better demonstrates the high caliber of player Gates was able to draw to Leonard Hamilton’s program.

Isaac was an All-ACC Freshman team member in his lone year in Tallahassee, showing off his ability as a rebounder, shot-blocker and inside-outside post threat. With Isaac in the paint, Florida State grabbed a 3-seed in the tournament but was bounced in the Round of 32. While Isaac would hop to the NBA after one season, getting him on campus at all was a victory — he’d considered going straight to the association out of high school.

Mfiondu Kabengele

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional Practice Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: 3-star, 0.8513 (247); 3-star (Rivals)

College Averages (Per Game): 18.3 minutes, 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 37.4 3P%

Pro Career: Drafted 27th Overall (2019 NBA Draft); Los Angeles Clippers (2019-2021), Cleveland Cavaliers (2021-Present)

Summary: It’s easy to pick out a five-star recruit and turn him into an NBA draft pick. It’s much harder to do with a lower level player. It’s exactly what happened with Kabengele, however, whom Florida State offered and signed on Gates’ scout. Kabengele only had two other high major offers when he committed.

Kabengele was a useful freshman, playing slightly above a third of the available minutes. But he really took a look in his sophomore season, when he became the anchor of a Sweet 16 team that finished fourth in the ACC behind three of the tournaments No. 1 seeds. Kabengele was a force in Florida State’s front court, blocking over 8 shots per 40 minutes while posting an offensive rating of 116.5. Kabengele would jump to the league the following year, highlighting Gates’ eye for talent even when the traditional recruiting services didn’t back him up.

Terance Mann

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Florida State vs Murray State David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: 4-star, 0.9442 (247); 4-star (Rivals)

College Averages (Per Game): 25.9 minutes, 9.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists

Pro Career: Drafted 48th Overall (2019 NBA Draft); Los Angeles Clippers (2019-Present)

Summary: Tired of the one-and-done rigamarole that dominates the high levels of college basketball? Well, can I introduce you to Terance Mann, the ultimate foundation piece? Missouri fans may remember Mann as one of the leaders of the Elite Eight team that ousted Missouri in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and Mann’s career is the picture of what Tiger fans want in the players they recruit.

Mann was a borderline top 100 recruit when Gates convinced him to sign in Tallahassee, and he quickly proved that he could contribute and develop at the same time. Mann’s minutes and usage steadily increased throughout his four years as a Seminole, growing from an athletic, undersized power forward as a freshman to a dominant, three-level scoring wing as a senior. Mann didn’t take the quick route to the NBA like some of his teammates, but his steady growth into an NBA talent should encourage Missouri fans who have been starved for tenured players who follow a clear growth track across their college careers.

David Nichols

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Florida State vs Vermont David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: N/A

College Averages (Per Game): 28.5 minutes, 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists (Albany); 17.5 minutes, 6.4 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists (Florida State)

Pro Career: Rogaska Crystal (Slovenia) (2020-2021); Belfius Mons-Hainaut (FIBA) (2021-2022)

Summary: We’ve discussed a lot of Gates’ prowess in signing high school players, but perhaps of more interest to Missouri fans will be Gates’ ability to mine the transfer portal. To that end, we can look at David Nichols, who signed with Florida State as a graduate transfer after three years at Albany. Nichols fit the mold of a Seminole guard: physical on both offense and defense, if only slightly inefficient.

While Nichols saw a dip in overall production during his one year in Tallahassee, he proved a vital bench piece for Florida State as they went on a Sweet 16 run. Nichols was second on that team in usage, providing Leonard Hamilton and his staff a sturdy defender and distributor in support of Trent Forrest. Nichols doesn’t have the star power of some other names on this list, his recruitment speaks to Gates’ ability to fill out a roster with pieces that fit and contribute in a meaningful way.

Jerome Randle

Louisville v California Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Recruiting Ranking: 3-star, 0.9115 (247); 3-star (Rivals)

College Averages (Per Game): 30.3 minutes, 13.9 points, 4 assists, 40.5 3P%

Pro Career: You can check out his Wiki for an exhaustive accounting of Randle’s European career, during which he’s won quite a few awards and made a decent chunk of change.

Summary: The final player on our list is the only one that doesn’t hail from Florida State. Randle was one of Gates’ early successes during his tenure at his alma mater, where Randle put in four sterling years that saw him named Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2010 and inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor in 2017.

Randle was an undersized but dynamic score-first point guard for the Bears, whose above-average jump shot and physicality around the rim masked a defensive game that steadily improved throughout his four years. Like Kabengele, he’s a testament to Gates’ evaluation, becoming one of the best players in Cal-Berkeley history after being lightly recruited out of high school.