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CGB Interviews Former Cal Bear Dennis Gates


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When I was at Cal, basketball was king.  It was the middle of the Holmoe era and at that time, Ben Braun was flirting often with the NCAA Tournament.  Cal also won the NIT Tournament!  And one of the key players during this stretch was Dennis "The Sheriff" Gates.  He was one of the smartest players on the court and people always spoke of how it was likely that he'd become a coach someday.  And lo, he did!  He currently coaches for Northern Illinois University, but did coach at Cal for a time.  Here is some more biographical information from his official Cal bio:

A Golden Bear guard from 1999-2002, Gates was a member of Cal's 1999 National Invitation Tournament championship squad and played key roles on the Bears' NCAA Tournament teams in 2001 and '02. In 114 career games, he had 34 starts and finished with an average of 3.8 points per game, as well as 100 steals and 148 assists.

During his tenure as a player, Cal compiled an 83-46 record, winning 20 games in a season three times. In 2002, the Bears reached the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In addition, Gates was named to the all-tournament team at the Golden Bear Classic in '01-02 after hitting a three-pointer in the closing seconds to beat Penn State, 76-73, in the championship game.

Since graduating from Cal in 2002, Gates spent one year on staff with the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers and at Marquette University and Florida State. He served as an intern assistant coach under Alvin Gentry and Dennis Johnson with the Clippers in 2002-03, then was a graduate assistant on Tom Crean's staff at Marquette in '03-04, helping the Golden Eagles to the quarterfinals of the NIT, and a GA under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State during the '04-05 season.

A native of Chicago, Gates was a two-time first-team Pac-10 All-Academic choice and the 2002 Cal recipient of the Pac-10 Medal. He received Cal's Most Inspirational Player Award in 2001, the Pete Newell Award as the team's best defensive player in 2002 and was twice named the Bears' Outstanding Student-Athlete (1999, 2001).

Gates earned his bachelor's degree in sociology in just three years and competed as a master's candidate in education during his senior campaign. He recently completed his Master of Science degree in adult education & human resource development from Florida State University.

From the Northern Illinois Athletic site:

Associate Head Coach Dennis Gates, a four-year letterwinner for at California, enters his second season with head coach Ricardo Patton and the Huskies. Patton promoted Gates to associate head coach in March of 2008.

Gates came to DeKalb after spending the seasons as an assistant coach for his alma mater. Gates brings postseason experience both as a player and coach to the Huskies. As a coach, Gates helped lead the Bears to a record of 20-11 and a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2005-06. As a three-year captain, Gates played a key role in the Bears' run to the 1999 National Invitational Tournament title, and he helped Cal earn bids to the NCAA Tournament in 2001 and 2002.

"Dennis is a young man that played at Cal, and graduated in three years," NIU head men's basketball coach Ricardo Patton said. "He is a guy that plugs us into Chicago right away and is well-respected among his peers across the country, but particularly in the state of Illinois."

Dennis Gates was kind enough to answer some questions for us and for that we are eternally grateful.  Thank you, Dennis Gates!  And Go Bears!

1.  What originally interested you in attending Cal?

REASON #1 - NATIONAL ACADEMIC REPUTATION  The academic opportunity which Berkeley presented was one that I was smart enough not to ignore and turn down.  I was aware that when the ball had stopped bouncing, a Berkeley degree would be the key that continued and still continues to open doors for me professionally.

REASON #2 - PAC 10 CONFERENCE  BASKETBALL  The Pac-10 was one of the best conferences in the 1990's and it was important to me that I attend an institution that offered the combination of both great academics and athletics.  The NCAA tournament in the 90's featured the following:


REASON #3 - SEAN LAMPLEY   Me and Lampley have been best friends since I was in 7th grade. His freshman year success at Cal and smooth academic transition made it much more easy for me to follow in his footsteps and head to the bay area.


Dennis is on the left, between Jamal Sampson and Conor Famulener.  - Image via

REASON #4 - CURRENT EASTERN MICHIGAN HEAD COACH/ FORMER CAL ASSISTANT CHARLES RAMSEY &  HEAD COACH BEN BRAUN During the recruiting process I was able to get to know both Charles Ramsey and Ben Braun.  More importantly they were able to share with me both the vision and direction of a program trying to overcome the set backs of NCAA probation.

REASON #5 - ACADEMIC  & ATHLETIC SUPPORT   After meeting the academic advisors within the athletic study center. I knew then that they would be able to provide me with the proper tools and academic confidence to graduate from college.  I just didn't think I would be in a position to earn a degree in just three years.  In addition, the bridge program was a great transition program that introduced me to the rigors of college life and the many ways to avoid failure.

Athletically, the support from the university administration, student body, surrounding community and alumni was an important factor in me attending Cal.  From an alumni perspective, my journey through college is what gave me the right to say, "I was not cheated, and I had the total student athlete experience." More importantly, it is what presently makes me a supportive alum.

2. What was the toughest aspects of returning to Cal as an Assistant

There wasn't anything tough about returning to Cal as an assistant coach.  If anything, the returning part was easy, leaving Florida State University, the kids and coach Leonard Hamilton was tough.

Once I got back on campus, I would say that my undergrad experience, team success, knowledge of the university, pre-existing relationships and knowledge of Ben Braun & staff made my transition as assistant coach a lot easier than most. In my eyes I was able to return to a place where I had "blood in the bricks."  A place that made me laugh, smile and cry.  The easiest aspect of it all to me was the ability to reference the same work ethic and selflessness that made me and my teams successful into the areas of game preparation, recruiting, individual improvement and practice.


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3.  What was your favorite game as a Cal Bear player?

Every game was my favorite, but the most memorable was the first time and last time I wore a Cal jersey (1998-99 vs. Hawaii & 2001-02 vs. Pittsburgh in the second round of the NCAA tournament).

4.  What was your favorite game as a Cal Bear coach?

Each and every one of them.  The most memorable was the NCAA tournament game in 2006 vs. North Carolina State.

5.  What interested you in coaching?

As a young person who loved basketball and loved competing, I was always intrigued with the coaching side of the game.  Whether it was the X's and O's, individual improvement, part method teaching and/or film analysis.  I never looked
at myself as just a basketball player, I looked at myself as a player with coaching ability and once my four year college career was over I quickly became that coach with playing ability.

There was not one person who inspired me to go this route but there were several great individuals who I thank for giving me opportunities in coaching.  Current Phoenix Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry for trusting and allowing me to coach in the NBA at the age of 22 (Los Angeles Clippers Intern Assistant Coach).  Current Indiana University Head Coach Tom Crean (Marquette University Grad Assistant Coach). Florida State Head Coach Leonard Hamilton (FSU Grad Assistant Coach).  Current Rice University and former California Golden Bear Head Coach Ben Braun (California Assistant Coach).  Northern Illinois University Head Coach Ricardo Patton (NIU Associate Head Coach).

6.  Who was responsible for nicknaming you "The Sheriff"?

MY AAU coach Larry Butler from the Illinois Warriors was responsible for the nickname.  It was given to me due to my ability to impact a basketball game defensively.  Throughout my AAU career (7th Grade-12th), we won all but 5 games out of about 500.  At the same time, it was my teammates both high school and AAU that used it the most.  Just in case you were wondering who my AAU teammates were I will give you a list of names and college attended. Quentin Richardson (DePaul), Cordell Henry (Marquette), Tavares Hardy (Northwestern), Rod Thompson (Iowa), Travis Wilson (Arizona), Brian Wardle (Marquette), Dorian Williams (St. Mary's), Sean Lampley (Cal), Bobby Simmons (DePaul), Corey Harris (Ball State), Corey Maggette (Duke), Jerrance Howard (Illinois) and Darius Miles (NBA).


The Sheriff lays down the law.  -  Image via

7.  How do you think Monty and the Cal Bears have looked, based on what you've seen?

Monty and the Bears have looked great. The 2008-09 year featured individuals who were once underclassman making underclassman mistakes mature into junior and senior leaders.  To think that Jerome Randle turned down Tulsa to attend Cal, amazes me to this day.  In my eyes he has matured into one of the top point guards in the country.  Patrick Christopher, and Theo Robertson (returned from hip surgery) have combined to make up one of the more dangerous wing combinations in the country i.e. Brian Wethers and Joe Shipp.

8. How have the players improved from last year and where do you see the
team going in the next few years?

Knowing that this past season Monty and the Golden Bears were a couple of bounces away from a Pac-10 championship, I must say that the 2009-10 season holds great promise!  If all pans out correctly the Golden Bears have an opportunity to go beyond the Sweet 16 if and only if we see them embrace the defensive approach that Coach Montgomery is teaching.  It is a must that they reach their maximum defensive potential.  With the combination of senior leadership, defensive maturity and individual resolve this group has the necessary tools and components to become one of the best teams in college basketball.

As it relates to the future, I feel that recruiting is the lifeline of all college basketball programs.  It's not always about getting the most talented individual; it's more about getting the individual that best fits the team. However, the maturation of these same recruits physically, mentally, academically and socially are even more so essential to their overall play on the court. The best thing about Berkeley is that it has the infrastructure and support systems in place to maximize the potential of its student-athletes.

9.  How different is it to be a graduate student athlete as compared to an
undergraduate student athlete?

Looking back on my college career, I would say that the biggest difference between being an undergraduate student athlete and a graduate student athlete would be independence, isolated teaching and the maturity level of classmates.  As a graduate student, more individual responsibility was put into my hands than ever before. Basically, the training wheels were taken off.  It was a lot easier for me to get off track due to the freedom that professors gave us.  But when it was time for projects and final papers, I had to multiply input time and page length by 4 or 5.  Overall, I had to readjust the time management skills that I had acquired during my first 3 years of college because we would have, in some cases, 3-4 class sessions per month per class, and teachers never looked over your shoulders to make sure things were done.

10.  What interested you in joining Northern Illinois as a coach?


Dennis Gates on the NIU bench.  -  Image via

The one thing that interest me in joining NIU and Head Coach Ricardo Patton was my further development as a college basketball coach.  Initially, I was given the opportunity to take on lead assistant coaching duties.  After my first year, I was then promoted to Associate Head Coach.  As Associate Head Coach, I carry day-to-day, and more specifically, in-game head coaching duties, decisions and responsibilities.

11.  Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years?  What are your immediate and long-term goals?

My long term goal is to win a National Championship as a Head Coach.  In the coaching profession, you never know when you will get the opportunity to be the CEO of an Institution's basketball program.  However, I want to continue to learn from the best, apply the things that I have been taught and continue to grow, just in case my phone does ring.  My immediate goal is to become the best assistant coach in the country.  In the next 2-3 years I see myself on the sidelines of the National Championship game as an assistant coach.

12.  What is the focus of this off-season and how will you continue to develop the talent and potential of this young NIU squad?

I feel that I have helped assembled one of the most talented young teams in the Mid American Conference.  The focus of this off-season is to improve individual skill sets, team & individual defense, team & individual assist-to-turnover ratios, free throw shooting and individual strength. Granted, some areas will develop as freshmen & sophomores become upperclassmen, I feel that if we continue to identify talented, tough-minded, resilient and self-motivated kids the program will soar to new heights.

The California Golden Blogs would again like to thank Dennis Gates for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions.  Go Bears!