The Daily Nole

Sunday Centerpiece: Dennis Gates — A Great Example On and Off the Court

Perrone Ford/PTFPhoto/FSU athletics

Florida State’s ascension as a basketball program over the last few seasons has been hard to ignore.

After the program’s first Elite Eight appearance in 25 years in 2018, the Seminoles reached the ACC Championship for the third time this past season while setting new program records for total wins and ACC victories. 71-year-old Leonard Hamilton has certainly changed the national perception of FSU basketball, but his staff wasn’t one to be overlooked.

More than a week ago, one of those assistants, Dennis Gates, was tabbed to be the new head coach at Cleveland State.

“When I first heard the news, I was happy and excited for Coach Gates to get this opportunity,” said David Nichols, an Albany transfer who spent last season playing guard for the Seminoles. “I was also sad that he was leaving, because he was such a great coach at Florida State and I wanted the new guys on the team to get to experience what Gates brought as a coach.”

Gates had been a full-time assistant at FSU since 2011 and was known for his recruiting prowess. Like Nichols, Gates is a native of Chicago and played a major factor in getting the Albany transfer to Tallahassee.

“Coach Gates is just a genuine guy that is going to tell you how it is no matter what,” Nichols said. “It’s always from a place of love and respect, so you have no choice, but to listen to what he says and give back that same level of respect. He is a Chicago guy, so I was able to relate to that right away when he started recruiting me and he played a huge role in my decision to come to Florida State. After my first conversation with him, I remember telling my dad that I could see myself playing for a guy like Coach Gates. I would run through a wall for him.”

A former point guard at California, which produced NBA stars at the position such as Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd, Gates played on two NCAA Tournament teams for the Golden Bears. His first stint at FSU came as a graduate assistant during the 2004-05 season. One of the players on that FSU team was forward Andrew Wilson, who is now an assistant at Georgia Southern.

“Dennis has a great demeanor for coaching and leading people,” Wilson said. “He demands respect from the first encounter, connects with people and has a tremendous work ethic. He’ll do great things for Cleveland State.”

Like Nichols, Gates holds a master’s degree from FSU. As a player, Nichols said, it’s not difficult to play hard for Gates.

“Coach Gates is a great coach and a great person off of the court,” Nichols said. “He is a guy you can talk to about anything in the world with and he always knows what to say to put you in the right frame of mind. He has a great basketball mind and is the ultimate player’s coach. If you don’t want to play hard and execute for Coach Gates, then you just might not like playing basketball.”

After graduating with his master’s degree, Gates got his first full-time assistant job at his alma mater California before making stops at Northern Illinois and Nevada. He came to FSU as an assistant during the 2011-12 season — the campaign in which the Seminoles would claim their first and only ACC championship.

“Coach Gates is a real professional,” said Deividas Dulkys, a senior guard on FSU’s ACC championship squad. “He cared about his players; his doors were always open to talk about basketball or anything in our personal lives. He has extremely high standards for his players to succeed, both personally and on the court and he set a great example for all of us to follow.”

Gates will have his work cut out for him in his new job. Cleveland State has gone just a combined 40-89 over the last four seasons. The Vikings haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2009, but Nichols said Gates has what it takes to change that.

“I think Coach Gates will be a successful head coach, because he understands how to build a winning culture,” the recent graduate said. “He along with Coach Ham, (assistant Charlton Young) and (assistant Stan) Jones have done a great job building an outstanding basketball culture built on accountability and discipline and he will take that with him to Cleveland State.”

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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