The tale of Yancy Gates hasn't exactly been a textbook success story.
His book is filled with chapters that were almost never finished, chapters about success, and chapters about struggle. The chapters are filled with pages of slander more likely to headline a tabloid magazine. There are pages about personal growth, and development. There are pages about new starts and underwhelming finishes.
But while a good portion of the book is filled with disappoint and regret, the final chapter is about redemption. it is about maturation. It is about evolving as a human being.
The final chapter of Yancy's story is a one that even he didn't think would be written. It's a chapter that he thought nobody would read.
"Here we are being talked about on TV, you know, people talking about us on Twitter, and it wasn't for us fighting or for us losing games," said Gates, following his team's thrilling semifinal victory over top-seeded Syracuse. "It was about how hard we played and how hard we fought back to get a win, it was talking about the character we showed in order to do that, nobody was talking about that earlier in the year."
Here is a young adult who stands 6-foot-9 and weighs nearly 260 pounds. His shoulders are the size of railroad ties. His glare is menacing, too terrifying to look directly into. He looks like a destroyer. Like a monster. He's been labeled a punk, a thug and an underachiever.
He was a five-star recruit brought in to revitalize a downtrodden Cincinnati program struggling to compete in a larger-than-life Big East Conference.
"He's been called upon to do a lot, too much, in rebuilding our program, before he was ready to do it. It was really unfair," head coach Mick Cronin said following the Bearcats 72-70 double-overtime victory against Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals.
Gates, now a senior, dominated the quarterfinal, scoring a season high 23 points, and forced the Hoyas to consistently double-team him down the stretch. The victory was huge in terms of Cincinnati's NCAA Tournament hopes, but even bigger because Gates was able to be the star of the show, the hero if you will, instead of the villain, which he is often perceived as being.
"This is my last shot at it," said Gates. "I don't want to just play one game and go home right away. I'll never play in the Garden in the Big East Tournament again, I want to put on the best performance I can."
During the aftermath following 'The Crosstown Brawl', more than a few media members believed that Yancy had played his final game in a Cincinnati uniform. The senior had exhausted his second chance, they said. The scar he left on the university was permanent, they wrote. But show me somebody who has never made a mistake, and I will show you a liar.
"The fallout provided us a lot of a mental toughness. Not necessarily motivation, but it brought us together," said Gates following the 71-68 Semifinal win over Syracuse. "You know like, when Syracuse went on that run in the second and the crowd got loud, earlier in the season we probably would have let that get to us. We would have probably panicked and tried to speed up and do things that we hadn't done to get the lead. But we kinda grabbed ourselves and calmed down. You know, that's the toughness we needed to build, and thanks to what happened earlier this year, we've matured to the level that we can become resilient."
The six-game suspension he suffered was difficult. It was difficult for him, difficult for his team, difficult for the university and difficult for his family. "I think it hurt me more than it hurt them," he said, "because I just had let so many people down."
But every great story has a great catalyst. The brawl with Xavier was that catalyst. Maybe a younger Yancy Gates would have laid down or given up. But his book was coming to a close. This was his senior year. He had worked too hard for this.
"I'd come to practice and play just as hard as if I was playing in a game, just to help them get ready for the game," Gates said. "I played really hard on the scout team, and gave it my all, and I think they really respected me for that. Because I think maybe they thought I wasn't going to come to practice, or maybe come and just sit down and not practice at all. But this is my senior year. I'd let them down too much. I owe them everything."
Coach Cronin has been especially important in Gates' success. He's been stern and tough, but that's what Gates has needed.
"Growing up, man, my dad was hard, real tough on me, but then you come to college and you got somebody doing the same thing and you really gain that respect," Gates said. "You start to grasp what he's saying as life lessons when you get older."
The lessons that Gates had been taught were difficult at first, but based on where he is now, they've all seemed worth the cost.
"You know, one thing ‑‑ it's like a proud parent," Cronin said. "Me and his dad will talk tonight and laugh. We've been working on this guy for a long time, his dad longer than me. But I just can't tell you how proud I am of him, not just as a player, but as a human being in general."
During the Bearcats remarkable Big East Tournament run, Gates has gone up against two of the conference's best centers, Henry Sims of Georgetown and Fab Melo of Syracuse. Gates has scored 41 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the two games.
To think that this team, and this player, would be just 40 minutes away from a Big East Tournament Championship is not only improbably but would have been considered unimaginable and impossible just a few months ago.
But that's what makes this story so great. You couldn't have predicted this ending in December.
In the 24 hours, we will know how the story finally ends. But regardless, this is a book you just can't put down.