Pending postseason changes, tonight will be Yancy Gates’ final game at 5/3rd Arena. He has been the face of the program for the past 4 years and has shouldered tons of criticism during his time as a Bearcat. There are a lot of things Yancy’s critics say about him and much of this stems from his recruitment. As a senior at Withrow High School, Gates garnered national attention as one of the most intimidating post players in the country. His 6’8″ 250 lbs frame was massive for a high school player and college coaches drooled over his potential. Per his Rivals profile, he was rated the 7th best power forward in the US, 22nd best overall player in the country, and the 3rd best player in Ohio. Gates essentially had the pick of the litter as to where he wanted to attend college with schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, Georgetown, Indiana, Xavier, and Cincinnati recruiting him hard.
But when push came to shove, Yancy Gates opted to sign with the hometown Bearcats and play for Mick Cronin. He spurned thriving programs to stay home and help with the rebuilding process. This is what some Bearcat fans have forgotten about Gates especially when they are so quick to rain down criticism upon him. The fact that he opted to play for a Cincinnati program that was just two seasons removed from one of the biggest Self-Imposed Death Penalty moves college basketball has ever seen speaks highly of his character.
During these two years Mick Cronin suffered his share of hatred and bottle throwing as UC won just 24 games combined in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. And yet Yancy Gates signed on. He joined Mick in the tall task of bringing the Bearcats back to national relevance. We Cincinnati fans couldn’t have been happier with Gates’ decision but I think most Bearcat fans believed the program had returned to the golden years of Bob Huggins. Looking back, I can’t blame them. Each loss since Huggs was sent packing was so hard to watch simply because it looked like UC basketball would never again accomplish what it did under their former coach. With a signing like Yancy Gates, there was a glimmer of hope among an increasingly frustrated fanbase.
In his first game as a Bearcat, Gates tallied a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards. UC fans were overjoyed with the possibility of riding their shiny new power forward along with point guard Deonta Vaughn to the Big Dance in March. But the frustration from this fanbase soon returned when Cincinnati missed the NCAA Tournament after dropping six of their last seven games to close the season. The same thing happened in the 2009-10 season with the Bearcats opening up the year on a nice run then faltering late in Big East play.
Most of the animosity was directed toward head coach Mick Cronin but some of that was put on Yancy Gates. He was called “lazy”, “disrespectful”, “unmotivated”, and an embarrassment to the city of Cincinnati. Bearcat fans everywhere thought he wasn’t living up to his potential given his 5-Star rating coming out of high school. Anger boiled over into sheer hatred when Mick benched Gates in the middle of last season and even more so when he nearly blinded Xavier’s Kenny Frease with a right hook in the Crosstown Shootout this season. Unfortunately that final punch will forever tarnish Gates’ legacy as a Cincinnati Bearcat. But was the hatred really justified? I certainly was guilty of calling for his head after he was throwing haymakers against Xavier earlier this season and I will never condone what Yancy Gates did that day.
But from a purely statistical standpoint Gates has averaged double-digit points throughout his career and pretty solid rebounds. Yet he has been criticized for not putting up the numbers or having the dominating presence that guys like DeJuan Blair and Hasheem Thabeet had during this time period. By and large it’s nearly impossible to win in the Big East with just a single go-to player. Just ask Providence last season with MarShon Brooks. He averaged nearly 25 points per game and yet the Friars won just 4 Big East games in 2010-11. It’s safe to say that the foundation of the Pitt and UConn basketball programs, and the depth on their rosters, were far better than that of Cincinnati’s.
It’s no secret that Yancy Gates has garnered his share of criticism over his career as a Cincinnati Bearcat. Some of it is justified such as him getting benched by his head coach or punching another player during a game. But the fact that he was barked at for not living up to the lofty expectations of a hungry, frustrated fanbase four years ago is just plain stupid. Yancy hasn’t let the city of Cincinnati down. He stood up and fought for his city the moment he signed on to play with UC. Since then, Gates has been a center piece of UC basketball around which Mick Cronin has been able to build a program. In that same vein, Yancy Gates is as much a hero to the rebuild of Cincinnati Bearcats basketball as Cronin has been.
So if you are heading to 5/3 Arena tonight to cheer on the Bearcats as they take on Marquette be sure to cheer extra loud for Yancy Gates. It’s his Senior Day and will probably be the last time he walks on Jucker Court. Remember the state of the program he walked into four years ago and the state of the program he will be leaving behind. Win or lose tonight night, he has made his mark on the Cincinnati Bearcats and helped return UC basketball to respectability.
And for that, he deserves a round of applause.