Cast your mind back to July just before the start of the fall semester. There were only five players on the Cleveland State University men’s basketball team. The head coach was fired, and it was back to square one for the Vikings. They needed a new leader for the program, and they found that in Dennis Gates.
Gates took over the position on July 26 and brought in a number of transfers from the NJCAA and freshman, along with the returning five players. Some called it a makeshift roster for the season and didn’t have many expectations for the Vikings. The team was predicted to finish last in the Horizon League, somehow having a worse year than the one that they were coming off of. But none of that talk phased either Gates or the players.
Gates would get his first win as a head coach in the second game of the season against Edinboro University, but wins would be hard to come by in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Aside from a three-game win streak at the end of November, there wasn’t much to be excited for. Then conference play started, and the team found its stride, winning three of their first four Horizon League games. Gates led the team to an in-conference record of 7-11, two more wins than the Vikings were able to muster during all of the seasons before.
Despite nearly having an identical record to what they had the previous season, the team showed a huge improvement in their positioning in the Horizon League statistical standings. The team finished in the top half of the Horizon League in multiple different categories, including steals, where they finished second, just behind Northern Kentucky University. The Vikings finished the season with 7.84 steals per game, which is an increase of 2.23 from last season.
Gates is the first coach to win the Horizon League Coach of the Year award for Cleveland State since Gary Walters won the award during the 2007-08 season. Walters and Gates are the only two coaches to win the award in school history. He shared this year’s edition with Wright State University head coach Scott Nagy.