Vikings season ends in NIT; Gates departs for Missouri

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Photo courtesy of CSUvikings.com

While anything short of another NCAA Tournament birth equates to a disappointing season for this group of Cleveland State Vikings, the outgoing seniors will all be remembered amongst other program greats as the Vikings not only returned to the top of the conference, but they did so in a very short amount of time. So much so, that Dennis Gates was lured from Cleveland State and will be the next head coach at Missouri. This leaves the program at a bit of a crossroads, as they not only lose a large number of seniors, but their head coach as well. Despite that, Viking fans and the entire city of Cleveland should be extremely thankful for the contributions of Gates on and off the floor during his time with the Vikings.

Ultimately, the 2021-2022 Vikings fell short of their goals. The team struggled down the stretch offensively, dropping four of their last five contests, including an NIT loss at Xavier. What did Cleveland State in was the loss of starting point guard Craig Beaudion very early in the season. While Beaudion did increase his on court activity in practice, he was unable to return to game action following ankle surgery. The loss of Beaudion created a void at the point guard spot, despite the best efforts of Deshon Parker who played well at times. Tre Gomillion and Torrey Patton were both forced into a more ball handling heavy role, which caused some hesitation at times on the offensive end in the half court from Patton. Adopting a new role in your final collegiate season is no easy task, and Patton did so with the upmost amount of grace and flexibility. He did improve greatly this season on the defensive end, as that was not his strength the last few years. However, the loss of Beaudion loomed large, especially late in the season when the Vikings were unable to grind out postseason victories.

During his his three years at Cleveland State, Dennis Gates ran his program with eight core values. Those values are friendship, love, accountability, trust, discipline, unselfishness, enthusiasm and toughness. Each of these values played a prominent role in everything the Vikings did both on and off the floor, as players truly embraced the words Gates spoke and the philosophy he brought to the table. One specific player who embodied everything Gates would preach was former team manager turned bench mob aficionado Ben Sternberg. Gates rewarded Sternberg with his lifelong dream, to play division one college basketball after earning a specific agreed upon GPA during a semester where he was a manager. Gates would oftentimes speak on the enthusiasm Sternberg brought to the table, harped on the fact that it is that level of enthusiasm that is needed to turn a program around. He received that enthusiasm from not only Sternberg, but his entire team on a daily basis.

When he took the job at Cleveland State three years ago, Dennis Gates did not inherit a stable situation as both the basketball and academic aspects of the program were left in shambles by the prior coach Dennis Felton. He had to scramble to put together any sort of roster in his first year, as he took the job very late in the recruiting season. He took that same group to the NCAA Tournament in just his second season. The degree to which the program turned itself around in such a small amount of time should not be overlooked whatsoever, Gates and his staff were able to get the absolute most of his team each year he was at the helm. Additionally, CSU basketball players excelled in the classroom under Gates, as they not only sought after good basketball players, but level headed individuals who know the importance of an education.

According to athletic director Scott Garrett, a nationwide search will now begin to find the next Cleveland State men’s basketball coach. However, Garrett would be wise to consider an in house replacement help continue and foster the culture set in place by Coach Gates. Cleveland State’s “offensive coordinator” Rob Summers should garner a look from the school in addition to fellow assistant Dru Joyce III, whose father, Dru II, is the head coach at St. Vincent St. Mary’s High School just down the road in Akron. It would be a difficult decision to completely abandon everything Gates put in place, even if he is not here himself. However, Scott Garrett was able to successfully find one men’s basketball coach, so there is no reason to believe he cannot accomplish that feat again.

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