Looking for coaches: Gamecocks basketball and Dennis Gates


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FILE – In this March 19, 2021, file photo, Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates leads his team during the first half of a first-round game against Houston in the basketball tournament- NCAA varsity ball at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. a program in just two seasons, Gates signed a contract extension on Thursday, May 20, 2021, through the 2026-27 season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler, File)

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South Carolina is still looking for Frank Martin’s replacement.

Martin was fired on Monday after 10 years at the helm of the program. Finding an established head coach would be a plus. Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates fits that mold.

Here are five things to know about Gates:

Gates coached all over America

Gates was born in Chicago, but he’s coached all over the country.

He played his college ball in California, then made assistant coaching stops in Marquette, Florida State, northern Illinois and Nevada.

Gates obviously never coached in the South — unless you count Tallahassee — which could lead to an adjustment. That said, he’s been on enough major programs that it’s not too much of a concern.

Gates won quickly at Cleveland State

Cleveland State doesn’t have much basketball history, if any.

The Vikings have only made the NCAA Tournament three times. One of those appearances came under Gates in 2021 after Cleveland State won the Horizon League tournament and finished the year with a 19-8 record.

Gates’ team was strong again in 2020-21, picking up 20 wins and earning an NIT bid. Cleveland State’s season ended Tuesday with a four-point loss to Xavier.

Money shouldn’t be a problem with South Carolina

Gates signed a new six-year contract with Cleveland State after the 2021 season worth an estimated $550,000 per year.

That shouldn’t be a problem for administrators in South Carolina.

While other options like Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton or Colorado State’s Niko Medved might have prohibitive buyout numbers, USC should be able to handle whatever it takes to get Gates to Columbia.

Working in South Carolina would also likely bring a massive raise. Martin, for example, was paid $3.2 million a year — good for 28th nationally and eighth in the SEC, according to USA Today’s Coaching Salary Database.

Gates worked for high-performing head coaches

Beyond the geography of Gates’ past saves, he’s worked for a handful of coaches with major success at the senior level.

Gates was on Tom Crean’s staff at Marquette the year after the Golden Eagles reached the Final Four with Dwyane Wade. He also worked for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State and Ben Braun at California. He also worked under Alvin Gentry and Dennis Johnson as a trainee coach for the Los Angeles Clippers.

There is always some level of trepidation when a coach moves from the middle ranks to a power conference gig. That, at least on paper, wouldn’t seem like a problem given Gates’ past bosses and workplaces.

His hiring would be historic in South Carolina

South Carolina has never had a black head coach in football or men’s basketball.

If hired, Gates would add welcome diversity to the South Carolina athletic department and make USC the only school in the Southeastern Conference with a black head coach in men’s and women’s basketball.

There are obviously other factors in this process, but hiring a black head coach in a high-revenue sport would be a big deal.

Ben Portnoy is the football beats writer for the in-state South Carolina Gamecocks. He is a five-time winner of the Associated Press Sports Editors Award and has been recognized by the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered Mississippi State for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana football for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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