Growing up in Chicago as the son of “Hoop Dreams” star and a prep basketball legend in the city, one would think that William Gates Jr. would have been bouncing a basketball at birth, doing everything he could to follow in the oversized footsteps of his father.
Chicago is a basketball city, through and through. Every kid in every neighborhood has dreams of being the next Derrick Rose or the next Jabari Parker, so it would only make sense that being, quite literally, the next William Gates would predetermine his path.
And it did. On Monday, Gates Jr. accepted a scholarship offer from Furman, a small university in Greenville, South Carolina, that plays in the Southern Conference and is nicknamed the Paladins.
Only Gates Jr.’s love for and success in the game was no where near as immediate as his father’s.
Where Gates Sr. gained stardom in Chicago was when he became the first freshman to start varsity at St. Joseph’s since Isiah Thomas did, Gates Jr. didn’t even decide that he wanted to play organized basketball until the summer before his eighth grade year.
“That one summer, I went to St. Joseph’s basketball camp, and I went in there and I won the tournament and the free throw competition,” Gates Jr. said. “I was the best in camp. My confidence was starting to build, I was starting to feel good about myself, I was starting to say, ‘OK, maybe you can make something out of this.’ That’s when it switched over to me.”
But just because he wanted to play didn’t mean that things were going to be easy for the namesake of the star of one of the most popular basketball movies of all-time. He enrolled at St. Joseph’s, the same school his father went too, and struggled with the expectations and the pressure. He played JV as a freshman, which allowed the hecklers to call him a failure. When combined with the overblown expectations of folks that believed he was going to be the next superstar to come out of the city, it was too much to take.
Basketball wasn’t fun anymore. So after his sophomore season, the family decided to have Gates Jr. transfer out of St. Joseph’s and into a Chicago public school before opting to move out of the city all together. They would up in Schertz, TX, a suburb of San Antonio, where Gates Jr. spent his senior year.
The reason for the move wasn’t basketball related. There are four kids in the Gates’ family — the eldest the only daughter, meaning Gates Jr. has a pair of younger brothers — and the idea of allowing them to grow up in and around the ever-escalating violence in the city was too much. But the move may have been the best thing for Gates Jr.’s basketball career.
The pressure of being William Gates’ son was gone.
“It wasn’t as big as it was in Chicago,” Gates Jr. said about his family’s notoriety. “You still had people who knew about the movie, but they didn’t really make the connection until they saw me play and they found out what my name was. There wasn’t any type of heckling or how it was in Chicago, it wasn’t like that.”
“Texas is not really a basketball state like that, it’s a football state. Chicago is a basketball city, so basketball is what everybody knows.”
Gates Jr. thrived. He averaged 23.6 points as a senior, leading a struggling Samuel Clemens HS program to a 25-win season and a berth in the state playoffs. With that success came a new identity, as the son slid out from the shadow of his father’s fame.
“That’s kind of how it’s been all my life,” Gates Jr. said. “But I’m starting to create my own identity, people are starting to know me as William Gates Jr., not just the son of William Gates from ‘Hoop Dreams’. I’m finally being known as myself.”
The competition level in Texas wasn’t the same as the Chicago Public League, but it was good enough that his production drew the attention of a number of Division I schools. But it wasn’t until Furman came calling that Gates Jr. really felt wanted.
“I had been getting Division I looks for a while, but it was the kind of thing where the school would say they were interested in me, but drag me along, so to speak, to see if they could get other players that they were recruiting,” he said. “With Furman, they came in and right from the jump I was their top priority and I appreciated that.”
Gates Jr. is a natural scorer, but he’ll be allowed to play more of a combo-guard role which, at 6-foot-1, may be the best thing for his career. His goal at Furman, besides graduating with a degree in communications, is to one day play professional basketball. He wants to make the NBA, in part because he wants to realize his father’s Hoop Dreams.
“That was his dream, but it’s also my dream,” he said. “I think of it as being there for both of us.”
“He’ll be able to hear his name called when I get my name called.”
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.