January 28, 2008

Withrow High (Cincinnati) forward Yancy Gates is still 6-foot-9. He's an athletic 250 pounds, with an NBA-ready frame. He still has a great back-to-the-basket game, as well as a feathery touch when facing up from about 15 feet. All of this was as true last year, when he was a consensus Top-20 player, as it is this winter, where his ranking in some circles have fallen from can't-miss status to a borderline project.

Such are the perils for big men during the summer camp season.

"In a lot of the camps, the guards are just trying to get theirs, so it makes it hard on us," said Gates, who is currently No. 11 in the SI/TAKKLE.com high school basketball player rankings, but fell from the mid-teens to No. 84 in the country according Rivals.com. "I wasn't really getting the ball, and some people said that I was drifting to the perimeter too much, while others were saying that I was staying inside too much. It was a difficult situation."

Gates, who chose the University of Cincinnati last April over Georgetown and Indiana, admits that he was both bothered and inspired by the slight. "I kept hearing people say that I was lazy, or that I didn't play hard all the time, and that just made me more determined to prove them wrong," Gates said. "I sort of rededicated myself to basketball after that."

Ron Naclerio, associate editor for HoopScoop magazine and Cardozo High (Brooklyn, N.Y.) coach, said that he has seen no discernible drop off in Gates' game over the years. He calls Gates "a natural" and a player who "understands the big picture" on the court and says that if he keeps working, he should be a force at Cincinnati.

"Sometimes when you get to these marquee events, if you have one bad game, you can see your stock drop," Naclerio said. "Nobody knows why a player drops, but he can be a very good player in the Big East."

A rededicated Gates has led to a banner season for Withrow thus far. The Tigers currently sit atop the Southwestern Ohio Public League, with Gates leading the way. In Withrow's recent 58-57 victory over Ohio's Canal Winchester High and their ballyhooed center B.J. Mullens, Gates shined with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while holding the Ohio State-bound Mullens to just one basket in the second half. Mullens, a 7-footer, finished with 16 points and 19 rebounds.

"B.J.'s a great player and a good friend," said Gates, who has played with Mullens on the Ohio/Cleveland basketball Club on the AAU circuit. "But he's a pretty highly-rated guy, so it felt good to play well against him. So much for rankings."

Indeed, at this point, Cincinnati has more riding on a Gates revival in the national rankings than Gates himself. Citing a desire to stay near his family and to be able to contribute as freshman, Gates had long ago pegged the Bearcats as his favorite, so his slide in the rankings had little effect on him as a practical matter. But Mick Cronin's program is one that is trying to rebuild its image as an elite program three years after Bob Huggins was dismissed prior to the 2005 season, and landing a top-20 player would go a long way toward restoring its reputation. One of Gates' stated goals for this season is to be selected for the McDonald's All-American Game, and UC coaches may be lobbying behind-the-scenes to make that a reality.

"I talked with some of the coaches at UC, and they said that the McDonald's people have whittled their list of players that they might select down to 50 and that I am still on that list," Gates said. "They told me to just keep working hard and we'll see what happens. I'd really like to make it."

Although the last few months have been trying for Gates, he says he realizes that starting next fall, nobody will care about who was ranked where in high school.

"People can say what they want about rankings and who's better than who and all that," Gates said. "I'm just going to keep playing hard. I'm the same player I've always been."

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