“I feel like the only thing that can really prepare you for college basketball is college basketball,” IU guard Tamar Bates said Thursday, describing the game’s experience-driven nature.
But there were times during his first year as a college player where basketball was the easy part.
Bates lost a close family member during the 2021-22 campaign, and before it even started he knew he was going to be a father sooner than his freshman year of college.
It was quite demanding at the time when he was 18 years old.
But the real life that changes things is yet to come.
Bates turned 19 in February. A month later, just days after Indiana lost to St. Mary’s in the NCAA Championships in Portland, he headed to his hometown of Kansas City, Cannes.
And on March 20, 2022, Leilani Nicole Bates was born.
For those who have known him over the past year, Bates already had a resolution that seemed unusual for his age. While many new students arrived on campus unsure of themselves, Bates carried himself as a professional.
And after setting his eyes on his daughter for the first time, he found his focus reaching new levels.
“It puts me in a completely different state of mind,” Bates said.
“I talk as soon as I see her, it’s like I’m just flipping a switch. Now, everything I do, all the work I do, it’s not just for me. I want to support her and my family. It’s like getting up, those early mornings, late nights and doing whatever I was I’m doing it, I’m more focused because I have a goal.”
Bates won’t say events in his personal life derailed his new season, and there’s no way to know for sure.
But he looked like a player who was finally overcome by the weight of everything he was doing, both on and off the field.
A potential 5-star star from the IMG Academy, Bates unleashed his potential early in the season. He scored 11 goals against St. John’s and 13 against Nebraska, which appears to be an indication of Bates’ willingness to play major college basketball. But in the end, the 6-foot-5 freshman shot just 33.8 percent of the field and played just 14.5 minutes per competition.
There were times during the season when his confidence seemed to have completely faded.
He knows this can’t happen again in the second year.
With a Leilani superiority on his mind, which fuels his development, Bates has clear goals when it comes to improving his playing style.
“Being better than I was last year defensively, doing open shots, making shots and always captaining the team,” he said when asked about the improvements he focused on.
An additional benefit should be the mass that Bates added to his structure.
A year ago, coach Mike Woodson called him “light in the ass,” and Bates says he played at just 185 pounds.
When he arrived at IU Bates he only weighed 178 pounds, but is now up to 200, and he hopes the extra size will help him survive the physical difficulties of major college basketball.
“Obviously I know going through the Big Ten, that was really physical,” Bates said. “You have to be able to shed a little bit of weight to be able to compete. But that is true of all times. You just can’t – you can’t be too light or anything else because your body is going to break down.”
Bates says his daughter is back in Kansas City now, but it’s never far from his mind.
This season you’ll be more than just this soon to be completely unknown.
She’s here, and for Bates, that means breaking up, physically or mentally, isn’t an option.
“My new goal is to give her food and put it on the table. Obviously the main thing is to make sure that the way I was raised is better than the way I was raised, and that is not a blow to my parents at all. They did a great job. But I want to outdo them. I want to I do better of them, and that’s what it’s supposed to be.
“I just want to make sure that she doesn’t have to worry about anything, and give her the world and all that she can dream of, but at the same time instill in her the things that have been instilled in me that you must work for all that you get.”
Basketball seems secondary to Bates’ story now.
But if his development on the court parallels the wisdom he’s already gained as a dad, Bates will be fine when November gets here.
And somewhere down the road in the not-too-distant future, he hopes to see his two passion stories now — Leilani and basketball — become one.
“I can’t wait for you to get a little older and start being in the game,” Bates said. “I feel like she will eventually want to catch the ball because we will be in the gym all the time. I feel that special.”
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