Nov. 28, 2001
By Corey Roberts
At times, it's hard to tell that Dennis Gates has switched his uniform number from 15 to 51. The aggressiveness of Cal's senior defensive specialist gives the impression that Gates spends more time under the skin of his opponent than he does in his own jersey. At other times, the guard's uniform is obscured when he takes a charge or forces his 195 pounds underneath to outmuscle a larger rebounder.
New number or not, some things won't change for the Chicago native whose hard-nosed style has typified his first three years in Berkeley. His statistical contributions will likely be modest-his main concern is the final score-and his goals will continue to include the postseason, specifically a return to the NCAA Tournament.
Since last March, when the Bears were bounced in the first round by Fresno State, Gates' role on the team has changed. Last year's leading scorer and rebounder, Sean Lampley, has graduated, leaving Gates to lead the team into the 2001-02 campaign.
"As a senior I think I'm more of the team leader, off the court as well as on the court," asserts the 6-3 wing. "I try to keep the team together in good times as well as bad times. It's my job to do that and (Lampley) did a good job with that last year."
In addition to assuming a leadership position, Gates hopes an off-season spent improving his offensive skills will help complement his already sparkling defensive game.
"I emphasize driving the ball," says Gates. "And shooting, that's always helpful."
Gates expects new opportunities for his teammates, as well.
"When Sean was here, everybody knew that he was going to score," he admits. "Now (opposing teams) have no clue where the bulk of the points will come from."
Despite his individual recognition, winning remains paramount to Gates, whose team-first attitude as a prep led one recruiting analyst to describe him as the most underrated player in the country out of high school. Gates believes a multi-dimensional Golden Bear attack will lead them back to the Big Dance, and says they took a lesson from last year's disappointment.
"You've got to play hard all the time," stresses Gates. "You can't take any team lightly because they want to win just as badly as you do, and they don't want their season to end before yours."
While Gates will always play his hardest, often covering an opposing team's top perimeter player, he says team defense is the key to stopping potent offensive guards.
"As long as I get help from my teammates, we'll do a pretty good job," points out Gates. "That's through calling out screens, getting through screens, talking on defense, help-side, and all the other things that go along with defense. As long as I get a 100 percent effort from my teammates, we'll be successful as a team."
To this end, Gates has taken it upon himself to pass his defensive expertise on to the younger members of the team.
"During all the drills I try to make my points," he explains. "I try to lead by example for the freshmen with my attitude, effort and intensity."
So why would a player as consistent as Gates, who claims peanut butter and jelly his favorite food, change his number?
"That was one of my first basketball numbers when I started playing in seventh grade," recalls Gates. "This is my last year, possibly the last time I'll ever wear a uniform, so I want to put a close on (my career) and have fun with it just like I did in seventh grade."
He won't be guarding seventh-graders this time, but if No. 51 is on the floor in March, the Bears should be fun to watch.