Though it seems like he's been on the University of Cincinnati campus forever, Yancy Gates still has one more season after this with the Bearcats and has just turned 21 years old.
While you may not appreciate it as much (because UC hasn't made the NCAA tourney lately) the recruitment of Gates from Withrow to UC was one of the more important signings in school history. With the Tigers, he was twice the Southwest Ohio Player of the Year and in 2008 he was the Associated Press Division I Player of the Year.
"Well, when we got Yancy, we had nobody else," said Head Coach Mick Cronin. "We were starting the program over. We got Yancy to stay at home and come over from Withrow."
Actually, Gates was on Cronin's radar from the first time he saw him as a seventh-grader. You tend to notice 13-year-old kids who have blown away the percentile charts.
"I think in seventh grade, I was like 6-5," said Gates.
It was that "man-child" build that led to a friendship with the athletic director at Hughes High School. Gates started his freshman and sophomore seasons at Hughes where he was paired up with one-time Xavier Musketeer Adrion Graves.
"In ninth grade, we got to meet him for the first time when he was at Hughes," said Cronin. "He's always had tremendous size. It's taken time for his basketball skills and his mind to catch up with his physical size."
From that point, Cronin was on the "Yancy watch" and that continued when Gates transferred to Withrow for his final two prep seasons.
"Yancy played on a couple teams that went to the final eight," recalled Cronin. "They lost a couple real tough games, both to St. X I believe, to go to the final four. He had good teammates on those teams. Anthony McBride was his point guard; he's a walk-on with us now. They played at the highest level of high school basketball."
That level included consecutive "double-double" seasons at Withrow playing for Walt McBride (19 points and 10 rebounds as a junior, 21.2 points and 10.5 rebounds as a senior). Then, despite the fact that his high school coach McBride went to Xavier, the Bearcats landed Gates.
"He's gotten better each year, he's a great kid," said Cronin. "Sometimes he's a little bit too nice between the lines, but it was a huge 'get' for us when he decided to stay at home."
Staying home turned out to be as easy a decision as it was to switch from Hughes to Withrow. Cronin had a relationship with Yancy's father, Tony Dees and family was part of the equation.
Looking back on his Withrow days (the Tigers won 40 of 50 while he was there) makes Yancy grin. Where dealing with Big East basketball can wear on some players, high school memories are often pleasant.
Gates speaks proudly of leading the Tigers against many top notch teams in the area, including tough games in the city and the notorious GCL.
"Competition in the city was always good," said Gates. "Especially with St.X's Walt Gibler (6-7 forward now at Loyola, Illinois) and all those guys. Even around the city, Hughes was still good. I was bigger, but I wasn't the only kid in the city. It just made the competition a lot better."
"Cincinnati has great high school basketball," added Cronin. "Especially in coaching--it forced Yancy to learn how to deal with a lot of double and triple teams."
Since then, Gates has traded his Tiger stripes for Bearcat claws but is still learning "The Circle of Life" in the Big East paint. You'd think being 6-9 and 260 pounds would be enough, but Gates continues to grow emotionally game by game.
"Oh yeah, I've learned a WHOLE lot more playing college ball," said Gates.
With that, he was whisked away by a couple of grad assistants to go learn some more. The Shootout and a long Big East road await.
(Mick Cronin video on Yancy Gates--along with cameo of football SID Ryan Koslen toward the end as the rookie videographer neglected to shut the contraption off)