Bryan Gates is Enjoying the Journey


If you watch or attend Minnesota Timberwolves games, you’ve seen assistant coach Bryan Gates.

He’s not loud, he kind of looks like your high school history teacher, and he’ll never boast or brag about himself. He’s taken the long and windy road to the NBA coaching tree, much like the man who hired him in Minnesota, Flip Saunders.

Journey To The League

His professional head coaching career started in the summer of 2003 when he was the head coach of the CBL’s Hickory Nutz, followed by the Beirut Blue Stars of Lebanon in 2004-05. The Nutz went 23-0 and won a championship and with that, Gates won Coach of the Year. The next year, he led the Blue Stars to a 24-7 record, finishing second during the regular season and fourth in the Dubai International Basketball Tournament – something most of us haven’t heard of.

During that stretch, Gates also coached the Oklahoma Storm of the USBL. He led his team to three Western Conference titles and was named Coach of the Year in 2004.

People were starting to notice the Boise State graduate.

He took his talents to the D-League (for the second time) as an assistant with the Austin Toros during the 2005-06 season.

The next year, Gates was named the coach of the Idaho Stampede and won two Coach of the Year awards on his way to a career record of 101-51 and a NBADL championship in 2007-08. It was a reunion of sorts, considering Gates was an assistant coach for Idaho for five seasons when the team was part of the CBA starting in 1997-98.

That sounds like quite the grind, but Gates never saw it like that and he still doesn’t.

“It’s like everybody else,” Gates said. “We try to good job where we’re at. We try to seek an opportunity to continue to do well. I know it’s a lame answer, but I never thought about it... The easiest way to explain about the whole thing is that you don’t get wrapped up in what you’re doing. (You just) enjoy the journey.”

His big break came in 2008-09 when the Sacramento Kings brought him on as an assistant coach. After one year there, Gates was named as an assistant coach of the New Orleans Hornets with Monty Williams’ staff.

After advancing to the playoffs last season, Williams was fired and the rest of his staff was also released.

So, what was next for Gates?

He received a message from a man with a similar path for a new opportunity and challenge.

Connections With Flip Saunders

If anyone knew about the grind of the CBA, it was Saunders. When talking with him, he would joke about the CBA all the time, laughing about the bus trips and how coaches had to adjust to guys being in-and-out of the lineup. It wasn’t an easy job – at all. But there were a fraternity of guys like Saunders, Terry Stotts and George Karl who will remember it forever.

Gates is also one of those guys.

Saunders started as the coach of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA in 1988-89 before moving to the La Crosse Catbirds and Sioux Falls Skyforce. In seven years in the CBA, Saunders racked up 253 wins and won two championships and two Coach of the Year honors.

Even with all of that success, Saunders never talked about the winning or losing. He talked about the stories and the relationships he built. When he first reached out to Gates about possibly coaching in Minnesota, Saunders didn’t ask Gates to discuss his greatest coaching feats or how hard he worked (something he probably wouldn’t do, regardless).

He asked for stories.

“He still loved the stories. The bus ride from Sioux Falls to Bismarck on a Friday-Saturday back-to-back and stuff like that,” Gates said. “And it was good. It was always good because he knew what we were going through. And so yeah, Coach always stayed in touch and it was always fun to see him because he didn’t want to know how team was doing. He wanted to know about the three-and-a-half hour layovers you in Chicago on a back-to-back after you get beat by 20.”

Gates and Saunders started talking about a possible job opening around Summer League. It also helped that Gates was helping coach Timberwolves wing Andrew Wiggins and then-Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett on the Canadian National team.

“I just kind of spoke with him throughout and it just kind of worked,” Gates said.

Enjoy The Journey

Gates’s basketball career has been hectic, but his family life matches that, and then some.

Gates and his wife, Robin, are proud parents of triplets – Kendall, Preston and William. The three turn five on Mrch a5 and are a bundle of joy for the two loving parents.

But that wasn’t always such a sure thing.

The couple found out that they were having triplets just six weeks into Gates’s time in New Orleans. But 27 weeks into the pregnancy, they had a big decision to make. The doctors told the family that major health concerns faced the triplets. The doctors laid out two decisions that could be made. The first was letting one baby perish to see how the others would respond. The second option was to have the triplets immediately and go from there. Nothing was guaranteed.

On March 6, 2011, the triplets were born with a combined weight of less than six pounds. The three, along with Robin and Bryan, were in the hospital for three months.

“I always saw them as my kids,” Gates told Fox Sports North. “Seeing the pictures to this day and seeing the wires. I never saw that. I never saw them as little.”

That process has helped Gates put things in perspective and you’ll never hear him complain about how hectic life can be with three five-year-old kids.

“Everybody wants to know how hard it is to raise three one-year olds at a time,” Gates said. “Well, when they were in the hospital for three months and we didn’t know if they were going to make it, that was the hard part. Changing diapers and staying up late? You just kind of did that. I appreciate those two little dudes and dudet.”

“It’s just about enjoying the journey.”

Jack Benoit