By: Mark Chalifoux
Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates is never going to escape the punch he threw on December 10 against Xavier in the now infamous postgame brawl, but now, Gates will no longer be defined by it.
Perhaps no Bearcat better defines the Cincinnati program than local product Yancy Gates. A highly touted recruit, Gates never blossomed into the player fans expected him to be. He always averaged around 10 points and was never quite tough enough inside. As a junior, he was suspended for a game for mouthing off to an assistant in practice. Not exactly what Mick Cronin wanted out of his star player.
And then came the infamous punch. He received one of the most severe suspensions after the brawl with rival Xavier and Gates was attacked by hoops analysts across the country. Facing a six-game suspension on an already struggling team, Gates could've packed it in. He could've faded into the background as just another cautionary tale of overrated recruits that don't pan out.
Instead, Gates helped lead the suddenly resurgent Bearcats program to a top-four finish in the Big East and the program's first sweet 16 in more than a decade. Helping bring the UC program out of the depths of the Big East and back to the tournament success it's seen in years past (although, to be fair, even Bob Huggins didn't reach the Sweet 16 as much as he should've with his highly-ranked UC squads) is how fans will now remember Gates.
It's quite possible the punch he threw, while reprehensible, saved the Bearcats season. Here's the thing: Cincinnati was not a good basketball team when it got blown out by rival Xavier 76-53 in early December. They were 5-3, with some awful losses, and they were going nowhere fast. With Gates out of the lineup during his suspension, the Bearcats employed a 4-guard lineup that they still use and when Gates returned, he was able to seamlessly find his place in the new offense.
And now the Bearcats are a tough team. Gates isn't always pretty but the senior is now playing the best ball of his career. It started in the Big East tournament when he scored 23 points in a pivotal win over Georgetown and 18 points in a big win over second-ranked Syracuse. Gates turned in another strong performance in the first round with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in a win over Texas. He added another 10 points in the second-round upset of Florida State.
Now, the Cincy big man has another chapter left in his story. He's averaged 12.4 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game but will have his hands full as Cincinnati takes on Ohio State and one of the best players in the college game in forward Jared Sullinger.
No matter how he fares against Sullinger on Thursday, one thing is for sure, the past two weekends have helped Gates cement his legacy as a player who overcame scandal and not one who was defined by it.
Gates knocks out Xavier center:
Gates steal and dunk versus Georgetown:
Mark Chalifoux is a contributing writer to CBS Local Digital Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @markchalifoux on twitter.
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