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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.

Brandone Francis-Ramirez transferring out of Florida

Florida State center Jean Marc Christ Koumadje (21) fouls Florida guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Gainesville, Fla. (Matt Stamey, The Gainesville Sun via AP)
(Matt Stamey, The Gainesville Sun via AP)
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Brandone Francis-Ramirez is transferring out of the Florida program, the school announced on Wednesday.

A former top 40 recruit, Francis-Ramirez had his two seasons in Gainesville ruined by an academic issues and a loss of confidence. He was academically ineligible in 2014-15, practicing with the team during the second semester. He was granted a redshirt for the year, but he struggled to find any kind of a rhythm this past season. There was a two-month stretch in the middle of the year where he shot 6-for-58 from the floor and 2-for-31 from three.

On the season, he shot 20.2 percent from the floor and 16.9 percent from three.

“I want it to work out for him,” Gators coach Mike White said in a release. “We really appreciate what Brandone did here and wish him the best.”

One of Villanova’s title game stars undergoes knee surgery

Phil Booth, Jack McVeigh
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The forgotten star of the national title game underwent an arthroscopic on his left knee on Wednesday.

Phil Booth, who scored a season-high 20 points in the 2016 National Title game, will be a junior next season and one of the guys called upon to help replace Ryan Arcidiacono, who graduated. He should be ready to go by the middle of the summer; according to a statement put out by the program, Booth will need 6-to-8 weeks to heal.

“Phil is as mentally tough a young man as we have had at Villanova,” head coach Jay Wright said in the release. “He continually impresses our coaching staff with his outstanding attitude. Phil will attack this recovery challenge with great determination, as he does everything in life.”

Booth averaged 7.0 points and 2.2 assists this past season.

Jennings becomes seventh player to transfer from Kentucky

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell watches his team during the team's regional semifinal in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Washington in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 25, 2016. Washington won 85-72. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell has announced that sophomore forward Alexis Jennings will transfer, the seventh Wildcat to leave the program since last fall.

Jennings’ departure comes a week after Mitchell publicly addressed the mass exodus of players and assistant coaches and stressed the need for building stability. Jennings figured to be part of that process and the coach said in a release Wednesday night that “it saddens us that Alexis did not see a path for her at Kentucky. … She felt it was in her best interest to finish her career elsewhere and we owe her that opportunity.”

The 6-foot-2 Jennings started 18 of 33 games last season and averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.