Yancy Gates and the Burden of High Expecations

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I'll never forget the first time that I met Yancy Gates.


It was at a Bengals home game when I was still working at Fox 19.  As I was walking toward the locker room after the game, I was approached by a gigantic young man who recognized me from TV and asked me about the Bengals performance.


After answering his question, I had a few questions of my own.


"What's your name and where do you go to school?"


"It's Yancy and I go to Hughes High School." 


"You must play basketball right?"


"Yes sir."


"Is UC recruiting you?"


"I'm only in 9th grade," Gates said with a smile.



That was seven years ago when Yancy was 14 years old and he was nearly as big then as he is now.  Imagine how many times he's been asked his future in basketball.


Perhaps we should all keep that in mind when judging his recent behavior and his evaluating his first three seasons as a Bearcat.


Yancy was born with NBA genetics.  But his God-given physique has created lofty expectations under a white-hot hometown spotlight.


Prior to Wednesday's win over Louisville, Coach Cronin said he never considered dismissing Gates for his behavior during the St. John's game.  Additionally, Mick disputed the notion that Yancy was disinterested on the bench during a great comeback by his teammates against the Red Storm.


"I can see where everybody thinks that, but I can assure you that he doesn't care about anything but us winning," Cronin told me.  "He's dealing with a lot of his life right now and I'm trying to help him get through it.  My biggest concern is him as a person.  But trust me when I tell you that he wants us to win." 


This season Yancy is averaging 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.  I'll admit that I was expecting more after seeing how he had gotten into tip-top shape in the off-season.  But Coach Cronin says, the junior's solid-but-not-great stats should not be the only way he's evaluated.


"The difference in our team this year when we've played at our best has been his defense," Mick said.  "His numbers have not changed and that might not please some, but my message to Yancy has been, 'You've changed our team with your commitment to defense.'  When his defense is excellent and he fortifies the paint, it's made us a winning basketball team.  He just has to stay focused on that and block out everything else that may be pulling on him.  It's a hard fight for someone his age with the weight of the world on his shoulders.  I'm just trying to be there for him right now.  Trust me when I tell you that if he wasn't a good kid and didn't care about this program, he would not be with us."


Mick's pre-game description of Yancy's value to the team proved true in Wednesday's key win over #16 Louisville.  While his stats were modest - 8 points and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes - Yancy's ability to patrol the paint and cut off drives to the hoop was one of the biggest reasons why the 'Cats held the Cardinals to 54 points.


"He had a great game," Cronin said on the radio post-game show.  "Stats don't matter when you're a big guy.  He was active, he guarded the rim, he did an unbelievable job against multiple pick-and-rolls, he gave us inside presence, he broke down their defense by getting fouled and passing out of the double-teams, and he had zero turnovers.  He was playing great this year until everybody started sending the kid text messages and put pressure on him.  It's not his parents - his father knows more about basketball than most of us and was a great player.  But too many people are always in this kid's ear saying, 'You've got to score.'  No, you don't when you're a big guy.  You've just got to play hard - that's all you've gotta do.  Play hard and assert yourself physically.  If I could sequester him where he couldn't speak to anybody outside of his immediate family or our coaching staff, he'd be fine.  There's just too much pressure on him.  I'm just happy for him because he's the happiest kid in that locker room - I guarantee it."


If Gates was in fact the happiest, Cashmere Wright could not have been far behind.  The sophomore scored 20 points in 29 minutes and outplayed emerging Louisville star Peyton Siva.


"Cashmere Wright was a big-time player tonight," Cronin said.  "Sometimes your guys have to be better than their guys - it's pretty simple - and tonight, our point guard was better than their point guard.  He was diving on the floor, he was all over the place, and he was playing with his heart and playing with tremendous passion.  When he plays like that we're going to be tough to beat - I don't care who we play."


A bold statement after a confidence-restoring performance.


"I told them after the game that I was proud to be their coach," Cronin said.  "If I stand for anything, it's to never give up and fight to the finish."


I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.


If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard


And I've finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

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