Dennis Gates recalls how Kelvin Sampson inspired him on his journey to become a head coach

Gates and Sampson square off in the NCAA Tournament on Friday
Updated: Mar. 17, 2021 at 4:23 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Dennis Gates is a man who greatly respects the past, and those who came before him. He frequently mentions former Cleveland State coach John McClendon, the first Black head basketball coach at a predominantly white school.

George Raveling, another legendary coach.

Leonard Hamilton, his mentor at Florida State.

And his opponent on Friday, Kelvin Sampson, who he first met 18 years ago while Sampson was at Oklahoma, and Gates, a graduate assistant at Marquette, got to drive him from Milwaukee to Chicago.

“Here I am in a car with a guy who was a G.A. at Michigan State when Magic Johnson was on the team, and he’s worked his way through where he is,” Gates said. “And at that time, he was coming off the Elite Eight.”

“I was afforded the opportunity to ask Kelvin Sampson questions, at the age of 23, in a car ride for an hour and 15 minutes,” Gates said. “And I made sure I took the long route, so I could have an extra 15 minutes.”

Gates, with dreams of becoming a head coach himself one day, was inspired. And even more so when Sampson later sent him a signed copy of his book.

Kelvin Sampson's book
Kelvin Sampson's book(Dennis Gates)

“That book sits on my desk, everywhere I go,” Gates said. “That book sits on the shelf if I don’t have space on my desk, everywhere I go.”

From Sampson to Gates
From Sampson to Gates(Dennis Gates)

“It might be a good luck charm for him,” Sampson said. “That’s flattering, and we all do something to pay it forward.”

Including Gates, who is hoping to be an example for others, just as Sampson was for him.

“I’ve been taught how to build bridges,” Gates says. “And allow people to cross them that may not have the same opportunities that you have had.”

“Proud of him,” Sampson said. “Congratulations to Cleveland State, the athletic department, and basketball team. They’ve got a keeper there in Dennis. They’re lucky to have him.”

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