Electric Fantasyland

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We're halfway through the NFL season, and beyond the midway point of most fantasy football seasons, but this is very special week for hoops junkies: the start of the NBA and fantasy hoops seasons!

I love football, but I've had a king-sized basketball jones since June that only grew worse after an Olympic hoops tease, the start of the preseason and the hallowed process of drafting several fantasy hoops squads.

It's time to put the rock to the hardwood and get ballin', which has made it incredibly difficult for a hoops junkie like myself to stay focused on anything that doesn't involve high-tops, baggy shorts, squeaking sneakers and thwapping nets.

So what better way to talk about football on a basketball day than to rap about a true crossover baller-turned-NFL star like tight end Antonio Gates?

It's not surprising that many great college basketball players make it to the NFL, considering that basketball requires the most all-around athleticism of any sport -- at least in my opinion. Terrell Owens and Tony Gonzalez are among those who played both football and basketball in college.

But Gates played only basketball in his college tenure. In fact, he shunned former Michigan State football coach Nick Saban because the coach wanted Gates to play only football. Instead, the hoops junkie that is Gates made pit stops at three schools before landing with Kent State.

There, he helped lead the team to back-to-back MAC titles and a magical run to the Elite Eight in 2002.

While Gates had a shot at carving out a bench role in the NBA, his size and incredible athleticism seemed a perfect fit for a tight end in the NFL. The Chargers worked him out and signed the undrafted player to a contract before anyone else could.

It's stunning to think that a basketball player who hadn't strapped on pads or taken a hit since he was a senior in high school some five years prior could average 16.2 yards on 24 catches as an NFL rookie, then explode for 81 catches, 964 yards and 13 touchdowns the next year.

Obviously, Gates has been atop the fantasy tight end charts ever since, but he hasn't been quite the same since dislocating his left big toe in the Wild Card game in January. Gates toughed it out for two more postseason games, then underwent surgery to repair the damaged digit. He spent the summer rehabbing the toe and battled a hip malady early on this season, all of which clearly kept him from maxing out his fantasy game.

He hasn't exactly been devoid of quality fantasy performances this season, of course. Gates currently leads all tight ends with five touchdowns, his yards per catch is 13.4 (13.1 last year), and he's fifth in catches with 30.

On the other hand, he's also averaging 50.4 yards per game (down from last year's 61.5), has zero 100-yard games (four last year) and his longest reception is only 30 yards (49 in '07).

But things started to click for Gates in Week 8, when he caught a 30-yard pass and finished with season-highs in receptions (6), yards (96) and yards per catch (16.0). He also pulled in a touchdown.

In other words, it looks like he may be getting close to full strength, and, conveniently, he gets a bye week to gain a little more rest for his toe. Coming off that bye, the Chargers have a very nice schedule, with the exception of facing the Steelers D in Week 11. The team takes on the Chiefs, Colts, Falcons, Raiders and the Chiefs again before going up against the Bucs in Week 16.

Look for him to finish out the season with his best performances of the year and end the season atop the tight end rankings.

With this hoopster-turned-footballer, you can consider that prediction a 360-degree-slamma-jamma!