PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas – When it comes to his basketball game, Tamar Bates has a long list of things he wants to improve.
But don’t mistake his honesty for weakness. On a team with eight upperclassmen, Bates didn’t arrive in Bloomington a couple months ago timid. And there is respect for the 18-year-old top-30 recruit. Bates already has all of his teammates referring to him by his preferred nickname of Scoop.
He did however, arrive with a body that wouldn’t last long in the Big Ten.
Beyond the fact that he happens to be really good at basketball, Bates is a confident freshman precisely because he isn’t afraid to discuss his shortcomings. As he showed the IU staff in his early weeks on campus, Bates seems to view a perceived weakness as a challenge rather than a slight, and he attacked the weight room with the vigor coach Mike Woodson hoped he would.
“He’s put on about 12 pounds from the time he’s come in here and that’s a bonus because he was real light in the butt and we needed him to pick up some weight,” Woodson said.
Whatever Bates may have been missing physically, he didn’t come to IU light on confidence. Woodson noticed that too, and he doesn’t seem concerned, perhaps recognizing the swagger is as much about the work his young guard is willing to put in as it is where Bates is today as a player.
“He’s a cocky kid that is not scared and I kind of like that in him,” Woodson said.
When Bates takes the floor for the first time in an Indiana uniform at the Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas on Friday evening, the relatively small group of fans who made the journey for the untelevised contest are likely to see a freshman who doesn’t look or act the part of a first year player.
Perhaps this first appearance by Bates and the rest of his teammates won’t be a fair assessment. Indiana is, after all, going head-to-head with a respected professional team from Serbia with a track record for producing NBA talent. They’ve got a likely 2022 NBA Draft lottery pick in Nikola Jovic, and a host of other talented players.
However it goes on Friday evening and then Sunday afternoon against Jovic and his BC Mega squad, after banging on each other for the last two months, Bates is happy for himself and his teammates to join forces and take on a new foe.
“I feel like we’re really going to play pretty well in these two games because we’ve been going against each other for so long, to actually be on the same team again and go against somebody else, it will be nice,” Bates said after practice at the Atlantis on Thursday afternoon.
That could prove to be a rare freshman moment for Bates. Irrespective of how well prepared the Hoosiers are right now, the buzz in the building is that they could struggle this weekend. And whether that sentiment proves true or not, Bates will have two games worth of film to process, which is really one of the larger purposes for this IU foreign trip.
Bates’ confidence is undeniable, whether it is his strong eye contact when answering questions, his mannerisms on the court, or how he communicates with his teammates. But the Kansas City, Kan. product believes that is all a byproduct of his work ethic rather than arrogance.
“I’m a firm believer in reps remove doubt,” Bates said. “I work out a lot and I put the work in, and I feel like when I put that time in I have the right to be confident in my ability and believe in myself.”
So you can be sure however things go in the Bahamas, Bates is going to find the weaknesses, and attack them.
That’s what he has been doing all summer, and he isn’t afraid to tell you where the holes in his game are.
“This offseason I’ve been working on my decision-making from the point guard spot,” Bates said. … “Continue to develop my right hand, be a constant talker, constant energy-giver. I’ve been getting a lot of shots up off the dribble, trying to tighten my handle, but really just being able to play that one and two spot.”
Everyone has guesses on who will be in the starting lineup this weekend. Bates seems to have made a strong case he belongs in it, but it remains to be seen whether the true freshman has earned that right this soon. It likely won’t matter much, as Woodson alluded to two five-man rotations last week, meaning playing time is likely to be fairly evenly distributed among at least the top ten players. IU will have at most 11 available scholarship players in the Bahamas with centers Michael Durr and Logan Duncomb both not expected to play.
The 6-foot-5 Bates seems to have a clear sense for what it takes to earn minutes when playing for Woodson, and a major factor is simply listening to the coaches he decided to play for after de-committing from Texas in the spring.
“Defending, that’s the first way to stay on the floor,” Bates said. “Making open shots, limiting turnovers, continuing to allow myself to be coached. We have a great staff, so just continuing to listen and learn, learn quick, and apply it.”
And when he listens to the staff, at least one thing Woodson says plays right into Bates’ wheelhouse.
“Coach stresses that to play for him you’ve got to be able to handle the ball, shoot the ball, and feel confident about it,” he said.
Bates seems to have that last part covered.
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