William Gates Jr., out of his dad’s shadow but still living his ‘Hoop Dreams’

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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.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.