Griffins men’s basketball coach Ryan Dunkley didn’t like what he was seeing at the start of the season from centre Andrew Bates and decided to give him a simple choice.
“Option ‘A’ was to change his ways and change his approach and change his attitude, his coachability, his work ethic, and come back and work to be the player and the athlete he can. Option ‘B’ was to hand in his uniform,” Dunkley said. “He chose the right option and he’s been awesome ever since.”
Indeed, he has. The powerful, six-foot-eight Bates had 15 points per game in the first half of the season (10 games). That led the Griffins and was good enough for eighth in the Alberta Colleges Athletics Conference north division.
He’s also averaging a double-double, thanks to his 10.8 rebounds per game, which leads the north division, and he trails only Dom Coward (13.1 per game) of the Lethbridge Community College Kodiaks for first in the ACAC.
Now in his fourth year, Bates is a very different player from the one who arrived at Grant MacEwan University in the fall of 2006 after graduating from Humble High School, just outside Houston, Texas.
His accent is a little less noticeable, but he’s also a much more mature player and he’s starting to realize the potential that his coaches have seen in him for so long.
As a rookie, Bates often had to deal with then-coach Erhayat Ozcan unloading his frustrations on him after committing a couple ill-advised fouls, likely because of the potential he saw in Bates.
He did do well at pulling in rebounds thanks to his height and strength, but he was usually forced out of games early because of foul trouble.
He even remembers one game back in the 2006-07 season where he managed to foul out of a game in just two minutes and 14 seconds. At the start of the game, he quickly took two fouls, got subbed out, took another two quick ones, played about a minute and took his fifth foul to get ejected from the game.
“Obviously, over the years, my attitude’s got a lot better,” Bates said. “Now, I can take a foul and it can be the worst call, and I can handle it. I can calmly let it go and ask the ref about it in a calm manner.”
He added playing in the ACAC is a very different style of game than he was used to, playing high school basketball in Texas, where the game is a lot more physical. There, he said, you have to beg to have a foul called, whereas, in Alberta, it’s sometimes the opposite.
Bates, a psychology major from Sherwood Park, said that taking the 2008-09 school year off really taught him a lot, especially about working hard.
During that year, he worked for an oil service company in Edmonton, but also had to travel up to “the dreaded Fort McMurray” and to southern Alberta.
He said he got the opportunity to make “a lot of money”, but that he missed basketball. There were days where he’d work 22 hours, go home to sleep for three hours and come back to work the next day for another 18 hours. Other days, he’d go in for half an hour before being sent home and get paid the same amount.
Bates was also forced to get used to sleeping less. He said he didn’t miss any of his 8 a.m. classes in the fall semester, and certainly wouldn’t have been able to do that in his first year. Now, though, he makes it to class, goes to work out immediately after and then heads to the library to study.
A little bit of lost weight has also helped Bates. He’s down to 240 pounds now.
“There’s not a lot of fat left,” he said. “I’m starting to get my ripped core.”
An increased dedication in practice has also greatly helped him this season. The team is split up into two groups for a drill and the losing group has to run. For the first 2.5 months of practice, Bates didn’t have to run.
“If I was going to lose a drill, I would go back in that game and I would score every point that I needed to score, and stop every person that I had to. It became a pretty big joke for the last, I’d say, month, because it was huge,” he said. “I legitimately did not run, and the first day I had to run for it, I’d subbed out when we were up 3-0, and we lost 5-3 before I could get back in the game.”
Bates has been relied on for leadership on the young Griffins team that features 10 rookies, a role he says he thrives in, “because I can’t tell somebody to do something if I’m not doing it, and right now, I am doing what I’m saying.”
He said he still has one more year left of school to finish his degree, so he’s thinking about returning to the team next year, but hasn’t made a decision yet.
The Griffins (5-5) are back in action in Fort McMurray against Keyano College (3-7) on Jan. 14 and 15.