Armon Gates has some big shoes to fill in Lincoln.
Kenya Hunter was a vital part of Nebraska’s staff, especially on the recruiting trail. Hunter was the lead recruiter for most of Nebraska’s top players and prospects including James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland and Thomas Allen among others.
However, Tim Miles wasn’t looking for just a recruiter after Hunter left his staff to take a job at UConn.
“We all have to be known as recruiters,” Miles said. “I mean, John Calipari’s a good recruiter, right? Your job is always recruiting. I think that’s just part of your DNA as a coach. I wanted a guy I liked, I wanted a guy that I wanted to work with, that I would enjoy working with, and then I wanted a guy who could do a little of everything — he needs to be able to recruit, he needs to be able to connect with the guys, be great with the guys on the floor, scout opponents, you name it. Armon has those qualities. We lost a good friend of mine that we all know in Kenya Hunter and Kenya was excellent, but I think we hit a home run here with Armon too.”
Gates played a big part in bringing in the players that helped Northwestern make the NCAA Tournament for the first time (and get their first win) in 2016-17. Gates is a Chicago native and improving in-state recruiting was a big emphasis for Chris Collins and the Wildcats while Gates was there. Five of the players on that tournament team were from Illinois.
“First of all, we had to identify the different student-athletes that could thrive at Northwestern due to the academic requirements,” Gates said. “Honestly, you had to identify them early. We’ll do the same thing here, we’ll just identify what the needs are and we’ll just continue to recruit our butts off and continue it every single day.”
Miles doesn’t want Gates to be pigeonholed as just a Chicago recruiter, however.
“I wouldn’t look at him as just an Illinois or Chicago recruiter,” Miles said. “I think he’s done a good job in Ohio, Michigan, certainly some of the prep schools as a former prep school player, and he’s recruited guys from Seattle, a little bit of everywhere. You always find a guy maybe here or there and there’s some kind of connection or link or a guy you just really like and want to pursue. I think he’s probably capable of just about going anywhere.”
Gates graduated from Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, one of the top prep schools in the country that produced current Huskers Isaac Copeland and Thomas Allen. That experience and those ties add another dimension to Gates as a recruiter.
“With Brewster Academy, that’s my alma mater, Coach Smitty [Jason Smith], he’s going to continue to feed us and Brewster, we’re going strong over here in Huskerland right now, we’re growing strong. But we’re looking to add a couple more pieces too.”
As for Gates’ recruiting style in general, he wants things to be a team effort throughout the process.
“I’m not sure how they’ve done it ultimately here, but I want to do it as a staff,” Gates said. “I think that’s important. I don’t think it should be just one person: ‘Hey, this is my recruit.' Guess what? It’s a staff. It’s called a staff for a reason. It’s a team sport so we try to treat this thing as a whole. One time I evaluate a kid and don’t like him, but M-Lew [Michael Lewis] evaluates him five times and he has something different, and I can see those little intangibles that he’s talking about. I think it’s extremely important to do it together.
“Coach Miles, he’s not available to be at every single kid’s game every single second every minute. We all know Coach Miles likes to have fun so he may be sitting with his buddy at a game and maybe miss an exciting dunk or an important play. It’s all about doing it as a staff and that’s our job as assistants to have his back and bring in the type of players that can help this program continue to go up another notch.”
As for his approach to working with players, Gates said he’s ready for whatever Miles wants to throw at him.
“I’m ready to go and work with whatever group is put in front of me and hopefully we switch up every single day,” Gates said. “Hopefully I can put my niche on the bigs and things that I’ve learned and also with the wings and the guards, different things of that sort. My number one deal on the court is just energy, bringing energy and passion every single day.”
Energy and teamwork were the two main themes of Armon Gates’ introductory press conference at Nebraska, and they should serve him well both on the recruiting trail and on the practice court.
With the addition of Robert Morris transfer Dachon Burke and assuming a return to Lincoln for James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland, the Huskers have two open scholarships left for next season. They are currently heavily involved with 6-foot-5 combo-guard Amir Harris from Hagerstown Maryland.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.