Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop is the real deal

Jack Westerheide, The Lantern

Through 17 games, the Ohio State Buckeyes have been led by forward Keita Bates-Diop. It seems as though the 2017-18 squad will go as far as the redshirt junior takes them during head coach Chris Holtmann’s first season in Columbus. That became even more apparent Sunday afternoon, when the scarlet and gray upset No. 1-ranked Michigan State, 80-64, at the Schottenstein Center.

Whether it was guarding Miles Bridges, who is one of the best players in college basketball, or what he did offensively, Bates-Diop showed the country the kind of player he is while leading the Buckeyes to the huge upset and putting his team back on the map—one that they’ve had a tough time being on over the last two seasons.

His freshman year, he averaged just 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds in 9.9 minutes per game and shot 47.3 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc while playing in all 33 games. Bates-Diop’s sophomore season, he averaged 11.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game and shot 45.3 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from long distance while starting all of Ohio State’s 33 games. His junior season was plagued by injuries, including a stress fracture in his left leg, which caused him to only play in nine games (three starts). Luckily for Bates-Diop, he was able to get a medical redshirt, which gave him two more years of eligibility.

Then, this season came. With a new coaching staff and not having played a game since January 1, 2017, there were plenty of questions about the redshirt junior leading into the season. While some projected that the Buckeyes would go as far as Bates-Diop (and senior Jae’Sean Tate) would take them, many didn’t know how how good Bates-Diop would actually be, especially after the injuries he dealt with just one season prior.

Through 17 games this season, the forward has not only exceeded expectations, but he has made sure that the rest of college basketball hasn’t forgotten about the Buckeyes, especially Sunday afternoon. In Ohio State’s stunning upset over the No. 1-ranked Michigan State Spartans, Bates-Diop finished with a career-high 32 points, seven rebounds, one block, and three steals. It’s the most points a Buckeye has scored since D’Angelo Russell did notched 33 points against Northwestern on January 22, 2015.

Spartans head coach Tom Izzo had plenty of good things to say about Bates-Diop—a player he once recruited—following his Michigan State squad getting upset by Ohio State.

“I think he’s finally healthy. I recruited him, I liked him as a freshman, I really did. I think he has improved his game,” he said of the forward. “What I like about his game is that his mid-range game is the best part of his game, not very many guys are like that, he is very patient in there.”

The performance was a surprise to many, but not to Ohio State and the ones who have watched the Buckeyes so far this season. So far this season, the forward is averaging 20 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.2 steals in 31.8 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and 38.8 percent from three-point range. Through 17 games, he has seven double-doubles.1 Not bad for a player that missed the majority of the previous season with a number of injuries.

Although he missed the majority of the 2016-17 season, it seems as though the time off seemed to work in Bates-Diop’s favor. Obviously, it was tough to watch his team struggle, especially because there was nothing he could do to help his teammates while recovering from an injury. But, it helped him change his mindset, re-watch film and learn more about the game, and sit back and watch the Buckeyes in order to improve from the sidelines rather than being on the court. Add that to the fact that he has a new coaching staff—one that has helped Bates-Diop improve in his role—and it has led to the redshirt junior being a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate halfway through the regular season.

“I think it was just a little bit of everything. The mindset is very important. Last year I was out for six or seven months and couldn’t play. It helped just sitting back and learning the game, re-watching the film, watching us play last year, and learning what to do and what not to do,” he said of his injury-riddled season. “Then the new coaching staff came in and made us all feel very comfortable in our roles. I think all of that played a part in me and how I’m playing this year.”

Not only has he been one of the best players in the conference, but he has also led the Buckeyes to a perfect 4-0 record in the Big Ten (13-4 overall) through early January. While there’s plenty of season left, that’s not bad for a team that was projected to finish 11th (out of 14) in the conference by Big Ten media members prior to the season.

Just seven months into the Holtmann era, Ohio State men’s basketball seems to be back on the map. While the coaching staff and entire team are the reason why that’s the case, Bates-Diop has put the team on his back and has a chance to lead the Buckeyes to surprise not only the Big Ten, but all of college basketball as well. One year ago, the redshirt junior was going through a season plagued by injuries. No one, not even himself, could have predicted that this is where Bates-Diop and the Buckeyes would be just one year later, especially in the first year with a new coaching staff.

  1. The Buckeyes are 6-1 so far when Bates-Diop records a double-double. []