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Cal Men’s Basketball: Could Dennis Gates become the new sheriff in town?

Former Cal basketball player Dennis Gates has been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Cuonzo Martin as head coach.

Louisiana-Monroe v Florida State Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

Now that Cuonzo Martin has departed for Missouri, the Bears are tasked with finding a new head coach to lead the program into the future. Martin did a fine job for the most part, particularly in recruiting players, but player development could certainly have gone better during his tenure as Cal head coach.

Could former Cal basketball player and current Florida State assistant coach Dennis Gates be the man to marry those two attributes and take Cal men’s basketball to the next level?

While Gates has no prior head coaching experience, his resume as an assistant coach is extensive and impressive. His assistant coaching career began with a stint in the NBA as a development coach for the 2002-03 Los Angeles Clippers, where he helped with the development of future all-stars Elton Brand and Lamar Odom before moving on to one-year stints at Marquette under Tom Crean and Florida State under current head coach Leonard Hamilton. Gates then spent two years as an assistant to Ben Braun at Cal where his recruiting prowess started to take shape as he helped beat a host of schools closer to his native Chicago for the services of Cal legend Jerome Randle as part of a 2006 recruiting class which also included Ryan Anderson and Patrick Christopher.

His next stop after leaving Cal saw Gates spend two seasons at Northern Illinois, a struggling program at the time, but one that saw young players develop into All-MAC selections and their record improve from year one to year two. Gates was also named associate head coach before the start of his second and final season with NIU. Gates then moved on to a two-year stint at Nevada where he helped coach another conference freshman of the year before heading back to FSU for the 2011-12 season, and where he’s remained ever since.

Gates’ second stint as a Seminole assistant coach is where he has grown his reputation as a tremendous recruiter, one who is capable of going toe-to-toe with the titans of college basketball and coming out on top. In 2013 he helped secure the commitment of top 50 player Xavier Rathan-Mayes over Connecticut. 2015 saw Florida State bring in 5-star Dwayne Bacon (over Georgetown and Louisville), 2016 first round draft pick Malik Beasley (over UCONN, Maryland, Oregon and UCLA) and top 100 player Terance Mann (over Georgetown, Indiana and Florida). The 2015 class was ranked 14th by Scout.

His most impressive pull as a recruiter came the following season when top five player Jonathan Isaac chose to join the Seminoles over more traditional powerhouse programs. Isaac is currently projected as a top 10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, while Bacon is projected to be a first round selection.

From a Tallahassee Democrat article on Isaac’s rare team-first mentality as the Seminoles’ star player:

But he struck up a relationship with FSU assistant Dennis Gates early on in the process. They became close. And he realized he wanted to be a Seminole – even after the likes of Kentucky and Louisville came knocking later on.

That class featured two more top 100 players and was ranked 12th by Scout.

It’s one thing to help bring in great players, but it’s another thing to coach them up and see them develop during their time at your school. At every stop in his coaching career, save for his stint at Northern Illinois, he has assisted in the development of a future NBA player. This is something Gates is keenly aware of, as Florida State’s official website credits him with assisting in the development of their current crop of players that has the team eyeing a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This is also something Gates talked about himself in an interview with CGB back in 2009.

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.

It is certainly risky to hire someone with no prior head coaching experience, but it could be a boom just as much as it could end up a bust. I mean, Steve Kerr had NO prior coaching experience and look at what he’s done with the Golden State Warriors. At least Gates has been an assistant for quite some time now.

Anyways, two things I’d like to see in the next Cal head coach: someone who can recruit AND develop players, plus someone with a good chance of staying at Cal long term who is willing to stay and build the foundations of something great. Is that a lot to ask? Maybe it is, but I think it can be done.

I’m certainly intrigued by the potential of Gates as a head coach. He’s pulled in recruits from all over the nation, so he has recruiting connections nationwide, which is important considering the academic restrictions in place at Cal. Plus, as a Cal player and former assistant coach, Gates has as good a chance as anyone at being able to navigate the academic and financial challenges at Cal due to his knowledge of the program and university as a whole. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I’d be willing to bet Gates could be a good long term fit if hired as head coach at Cal. He certainly has fond memories of his time in Berkeley (from the 2009 interview with CGB):

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.

While he’s clearly grown fond of Florida State, Gates desires a head coaching position (from the 2009 CGB interview):

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.

Bears fans, what do you think about “The Sheriff” potentially returning to Cal as the new head coach? Who is your preferred candidate?

Sound off in the comments below!