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Coaching never ends for Bearcats overseas

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Though players disappear from the radar of UC basketball fans upon graduating, the coaching of those who continue their basketball careers overseas only begins for Mick Cronin. 

CINCINNATI -- Yancy Gates laughs and rolls his eyes simultaneously. All at the mere mention of the multitude of important decisions he needed to make in the months following the conclusion of his UC career and beginning of his professional journey. 

The moment Ohio State put the finishing touches on his final NCAA tournament run in March of 2012, Gates faced an uncertain future. 

Where should he play? Should the NBA be an option? Is riding the bench worth being in the league? What International leagues present the best opportunities? Do any offer health insurance? Who should be his agent? What will he do with an influx of income? When will he see his daughter and family? How must he alter his game for the next level? 

Gates spent his life on the streets of hometown Cincinnati, as recognized as comfortable and caretaken. Eventually last year, he landed in Lithuania, only recognized by teammates and his work Visa. Decisions needed to be made and executed while processing a language out of the Rosetta Stone post-graduate program and culture adjustment only a sitcom writer could love.  
Enduring the process alone would come as easy as personally calculating the currency conversion from American dollars to Lithuanian litas. 

"You try to talk to a lot of different people," said Gates, who spent this summer in the Puerto Rico league. "It's a lot different than being in college where your house and room is paid for, all that stuff so, you got to be more responsible. Just because you're are overseas, I have a daughter. That doesn't take away from the responsibilities you have at home. You just try to stay focused and be able to budget all of it on an even level. You try to use all your sources." 

That's where Mick Cronin enters the equation. He developed Gates in order to win 89 games during four years for UC. In Cronin's mind, though, with Gates and every other product of the Bearcats program, after the final game his coaching just begins. 

"We got a lot of things to do with those guys," Cronin said. "Stuff we do with guys all the time. There are things people don't realize with these guys, they are graduated, their health insurance is gone. If you are getting it through the university or with your parents. There are things we talk about with these guys all the time are important. A lot of young people don't understand how important that is." 

Little time exists for lag. Upon leaving school, Cronin immediately helps them find agents they can trust - as much as that is attainable. If the NBA doesn't come calling, which will be the case for 99 percent of college basketball players, a trusted guide through often rocky overseas waters stands essential. 

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Just ask John Williamson. He's played in eight different countries since graduating from UC in 2008. Williamson averaged 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds during his two seasons as a JuCo transfer early in Cronin's rebuilding process. 

Taking on a career overseas he endured a medical staff in Venezuela that incorrectly diagnosed what turned out to be a broken collarbone, nearly forcing career-threatening damage had he not decided to bolt the league after one game. 

Every offseason he's forced to weigh options between leagues covering the globe, all while being discounted as  as series of injuries stunted his progress. Cronin set Williamson up with an agent he could trust and even a financial planner to properly save his money. He sent out word to international coaches assisting Williamson finding teams.

Williamson leaned on both his biological family and UC family to make it through. 

"You have to look at it as I am going to live abroad, going overseas for this x-amount of months and I am not going to see my family and stuff like that," Williamson said. "There's more of a mental state. You got to have that passion and have good people around you like Mick Cronin."

This past season he averaged 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds playing in France. He's currently undecided if he will rejoin that team or move elsewhere as one of the top American free agents in the league. 

He's not surprised by all the assistance Cronin and his staff offered once he couldn't help them win games anymore, that generosity drew him to UC in the first place. 

"It's not a surprise because of how Mick is," Williamson said. "Even former players before us, I'd see how he treated them when I was here. If they needed anything as far as tickets or jobs or anything, he'll help you as much as he can. That's why I have no doubt if I needed anything as far as playing ball, a phone call to Mick and I'm sure he'd do the best he can to help me out. It's always good to have the relationship and the people I met over the years in Cincinnati is all good people, so it's a blessing." 

Williamson thrives as a veteran of the European game and still hoping to work out for NBA scouts when given the opportunity. He hears from coaches, teammates and scouts repeatedly than his game can translate to the league. If that opportunity comes, he'll be grateful. If not, well, playing in Europe has been a different dream come true in itself. 

Meanwhile, Gates still chases his dreams. He could have taken a camp tryout with the Boston Celtics last year, but passed so he could spend time playing instead of sitting. He hopes a few years in Europe will lead to a shot in the NBA. Where his path forks next remains to be determined. He only knows when the decisions pile up again, he knows what number to call. 

"Anything I'd asked (the UC coaching staff) before they were willing to help me with," he said. "I could call any guy on the coaching staff, any trainer, anyone would help me even now still. I keep in contact with all of them." 

I want to hear from you! Shoot me any comments, questions or suggestions about anything surrounding UC athletics to pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr. 

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