Cates fueling fire for hoops as prep coach

By Jamie Combs
Sports Editor
jcombs@starhq.com

   As a player, Matthew Cates repeatedly stamped his style of excellence over the game of basketball like the Hershey's brandname on the face of a chocolate bar.
   As a coach, he has his team craving the sweet flavor of success.
   "We always want to win our region and go to the state tournament," said Cates, having completed his second season as girls head basketball coach at Georgia's Cherokee High School.
   Whether or not Cates, an early-'90s Hampton High star who went on to have a nice career at Gardner-Webb University, ever achieves those lofty goals, he finds the coaching profession quite agreeable.
   After spending time as a varsity assistant with one of Cherokee's neighboring schools, the likable Cates is relishing his role leading the Lady Warriors.
   "It's a little different than playing," Cates said. "You see all the other stuff you did that drove your coaches crazy. It's a little different, but I enjoy it. I love it."
   Although he coaches at one of the smallest 5-A schools in the state of Georgia, Cates could be on to good things at Cherokee, which is located close to Atlanta.
   His first season with the Lady Warriors, Cates mustered a .500 season despite inheriting a squad that lost nine seniors from the previous year.
   "It's a pretty good tradition (at Cherokee)," Cates said. "We're starting our own tradition and doing something new. They were starting out with me, and I could build the program the way I wanted to. The administration does a really good job of supporting us."
   Following the loss of four more seniors Cherokee found the road a little bumpier this past season, but a strong nucleus should be in place for the next time around.
   "I'll have most of the girls coming back, including probably the best player we have," Cates said.
   In terms of his coaching style, Cates is a firm believer in putting plenty of heat on his opponents.
   "I've taken some things from my high school and college coaches and rolled them into one," he said. "We use a lot of pressing -- pressure defense. Defense is my first priority. We try to put a lot of pressure on you and make you beat us.
   "We try to force a lot of turnovers and convert those turnovers into easy points."
   A participant on three straight sub-state teams ('91-'93), including the '92 club that made it to the state semifinals, Cates was a force to be reckoned with during his Hampton Bulldog days.
   Later Cates turned into a solid performer at Gardner-Webb, where he started entertaining the prospects of being a coach.
   "I had already thought about it while I was still playing," Cates said. "I love the game so much, so I figured this would be a good way to stay in it. Teaching and coaching really go hand-in-hand."
   As far as the coaching game goes, Cates was a little surprised to hear that his head coach in high school, Jerry White, had resigned at Hampton.
   "I figured Coach White would coach forever," he said.
   As for the future, Cates feels like the Bulldog program is in capable hands with new head coach Bud Hazelwood.
   "Coach Hazelwood will do a good job," he said.
   On the educational side of things, Cates recently earned his master's degree from North Georgia College & State University. Moreover, he plans to pursue a specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University.
   "I'd like to possibly get into administration somewhere down the line," he said. "I want to coach as long as I can. I'd maybe like to be an assistant principal down the line."
   Evidently, there's no shortage of ambition for Matthew Cates.