CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The last time the Vikings went dancing, a dozen years ago, Gary Waters was leading the way.
And you can bet, the winningest coach in Cleveland State history is locked in on this trip as well.
“Oh, man, I’m so excited about it,” Waters said during a zoom meeting from his home in Florida. “And I talk to Dennis at least two or three times a month.”
That would be current head coach Dennis Gates, who, like Waters, has found a way to galvanize his group and make this magical run. A run that in at least one way reminds Waters of his tournament team back in 2009.
“The defensive side,” Waters said. “They play it pretty hard, and they’re committed. I think when you get to tournament play, you’ve got to play defense.”
Waters talks about commitment, and loyalty, and empowering others in his new faith-based book “10 Principles of a Character Coach”.
“In my book I talk about Empower and Serve,” Waters said. “And basically what I’m saying is, you’ve got to serve your players, and your coaches, so they can become better.”
It’s a principle that Gates has clearly tapped in to. And come Friday night, his Vikings, huge underdogs to a high-scoring Houston team, will take their shot.
“I told Dennis, you’ve got to make your players believe that it ain’t about if they’re better, if they’re ranked higher, it’s about who’s the best that day,” Waters said. “And that particular day, you can go out and do things you’ve never thought about, if you believe in it.”
Waters’ team did in ’09, stunning, and upsetting, fourth-seeded Wake Forest in the opening round.
I told Gary that reporters keep reminding Gates that Cleveland State has never lost an opening round game in the NCAA Tournament.
“Oh, that’s bad,” Waters said with a laugh. “Don’t be putting that on him.”