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Bahamas rewind: Observations on Tamar Bates’ play during IU basketball’s foreign tour

The Daily Hoosier spent the week in The Bahamas in connection with IU basketball’s foreign tour and had several opportunities to see the team in action.  Since nothing was televised and not everything was public, we are going to go player-by-player in jersey number order to share our thoughts on what we saw and what to expect from Indiana’s 2021-22 roster.

Let’s just say it — Tamar Bates is special.

And there is much more to him than just athleticism or basketball skill — both of which he has in abundance.  When it comes to the ten IU players who saw the floor at the Atlantis Resort, the freshman from Kansas City, Kan. made the strongest impression.

My first clue that there was something a little different about Bates came on Wednesday night, two days before the first game.

I walked down to the Imperial Ballroom to make sure I knew where it was for practice the next day and I heard a ball bouncing at 9 p.m. in what is in reality just a really  large corporate conference room. I poked my head in to see who was on the court, and there was Bates along with a couple managers.  And they weren’t just getting shots up.  It was an intense workout, and Bates was the only player there.

The next day after practice we got a chance to interview the 18 year-old guard, and in person you get the feeling you are talking to a grown man.  He is confident but not arrogant, and he gives the kind of thoughtful answers you expect from an upperclassman who has grown accustomed to the media.

When he entered the first game on Friday night, you could see a carryover to the court from that confident person off it.  Six minutes into his first appearance in an Indiana uniform, Bates had gone 2-of-2 from the free throw line, made a contested floater from 10-feet, made a 3-pointer over an extended arm, and then drew oohs and ahs from the crowd with a breakaway layup off his own steal that involved him stepping through two defenders, a mid-air change of hands to avoid a swiping arm, and a finger roll finish.

When Bates checked out a minute later, everyone in the building knew, this kid is different.  And it wasn’t just his skills on the court.

The 6-foot-5 Bates carries himself like a veteran.

Whether he is intentionally channeling Kobe Bryant or not, it is impossible to not think of the late NBA legend when you watch Bates’ intensity, focus and purpose he plays with.  That isn’t a comparison to Bryant from a talent perspective — that wouldn’t be fair to anyone.  But Bates has a similar all-business fire burning in his eyes.

Is it reasonable to expect Bates to be the alpha leader this program has been yearning for since Yogi Ferrell left?  Again, not sure that is a fair thought to put on an 18 year-old freshman.  But the alpha mindset is in there, and he has the respect of his teammates and isn’t afraid to be verbal.  It won’t be a surprise at all if Bates’ passion starts pulling some guys along with him over the course of the 2021-22 season.

Bates was Indiana’s second leading scorer for the trip, and after watching him in action you could realistically expect that he might end his first season in Bloomington in that same position.  He scored 14 points in 18 minutes in game one, and showed he is a threat from anywhere on the court.  With good elevation and length, Bates doesn’t need much room to get his shot off, and he knows how to create the space to get those openings.  Late shot clock or when IU just needs a bucket, Bates should be someone who can create something from nothing — an essential attribute for sustained success in the Big Ten.

Over two games Bates scored 23 points in 45 minutes while being efficient and taking care of the ball.  When he wasn’t scoring as much in the second game, Bates grabbed six rebounds.  He had just one turnover over the course of the two games, mainly because Bates doesn’t get sped up and doesn’t force the action.  Instead the points came because his game is polished and well-rounded.  In so many ways he played like a third or fourth year player and is clearly ready to make an impact at the high major level.

Bates is dialed-in on the defensive end as well.  He has good length and should end up being a really nice complement to the on-the-ball defense we expect from Xavier Johnson and Rob Phinisee.  With those two on the ball making things uncomfortable, Bates should be able to jump a few passing lanes like he did against BC Mega, and he moves well laterally himself.

You never know about recruiting rankings or how a freshman with high expectations might carry himself and handle the spotlight.  He didn’t come to IU with Romeo Langford level hype, but Bates is clearly the most fluid, athletic and skilled recruit to play for the Hoosiers since.  There will no doubt be freshman ups-and-downs with Bates, but if we learned nothing else in The Bahamas, Mike Woodson’s first high school recruit is the real deal — and he will have a major role in year one.


  • Game one: 18 minutes, 14 points, 5-8 FG, 1-2 3FG, 3-4 FT, 2 rebounds, 1 assists, 0 turnovers, 0 blocks, 1 steals
  • Game two: 27 minutes, 9 points, 3-7 FG, 1-3 3FG, 2-2 FT, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 turnovers, 0 blocks, 1 steals
  • Averages:  22.5 minutes, 11.5 points, 53.3% FG, 40% 3 FG, 83.3% FT, 4 rebounds, .5 assists, .5 turnovers, 0 blocks, 1 steals

See also:  Bates named Jordan Brand All-American

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