CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Michael Jordan is once again the hottest thing on T.V.
ESPN’s documentary “The Last Dance” is pulling in record ratings.
“Hey, everyone’s watching that show,” Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates told me during a recent Facetime interview.
A Chicago native, Gates might be Jordan’s biggest fan. So it was a bit surreal 20 years ago when Gates’ former high school teammate, Quentin Richardson, and former USC coach George Raveling took him to dinner. Along with a special guest.
“So he walks up ... Michael Jordan ... he pulls out a seat, and at this point I’m kicking George Raveling under the table,” Gates says. “I’m like, ‘why didn’t you guys tell me this?’
“I’m just looking at the words those three are saying. I’m like,'man, we’re talking to Michael Jordan'. I’m not saying a word.”
Of course, Gates had played against Jordan during summer sessions in Chicago, so he settled down. But some things never rub off. Like Michael’s competitive fire. Something Gates looks for when he recruits players to Cleveland State.
“The competitive spirit, the competitive drive, those are by far the most important when you look at kids,” Gates says. “The second thing is the capacity that they have to get better.”
Gates points out forward Algevon Eichelberger, who went from averaging 4 points per game to almost 15. He’s also added JUCO transfers D’Moi Hodge and Yahel Hill, the all-time leading scorer at Cleveland Heights.
“He’s a heady point guard, very crafty ... can shoot the 3′s, a defensive menace,” says Gates. “We’re looking forward to what he brings to the table.”
Gates is changing the culture at Cleveland State, which should keep more players transferring in, and fewer transferring out. He’s also raising the bar, scheduling road games at Kentucky and Duke early next season, to challenge his Vikings. He’s the leader they’ve been looking for. Although these days, he’d rather pay tribute to the leaders on the front lines during this pandemic.
“They are putting their lives on the line,” Gates says. “I just want to say I appreciate all those people out there. My mom’s a nurse, so I totally understand everything that’s happening.”