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IU basketball: Mike Woodson points to Tamar Bates first when asked for breakout player

Indiana is returning five of its top-six scorers from a year ago, and Mike Woodson was asked which of those five will take the biggest jump in 2022-23.

But Woodson’s mind immediately went to his seventh leading returning player in terms of point production from last season.

Who’s going to make the biggest jump?

“I like to think Tamar Bates, he’s been a guy we targeted when we first brought him to do some special things for us,” Woodson told Jon Rothstein on the College Hoops Today podcast.  “But as a freshman he had some ups and downs.  Summer work has just been fantastic for him in terms of his growth, and I’m looking for big things from him.”

Bates’ biggest challenge on the basketball court last year may have been his wiry frame, and he has placed a major emphasis on getting stronger during the offseason.  Woodson shared a concern last summer Bates was a little “light in the butt,” and that may have been a limiting factor for Bates, especially on the defensive end.  But the Kansas City, Kan. product said at IU’s media day he is up to 200 pounds, 17 more than his 2021-22 playing weight.

While Bates didn’t arrive at IU with a lot of muscle, he did bring plenty of expectations as a top-30 prospect with no shortage of swagger.  The 6-foot-5 Bates got off to good start for the Hoosiers as a freshman, but the pressure he placed on himself to deliver from day one seems to have been an unnecessary burden.

“When you’re first coming in you’re trying to prove yourself, but I don’t have that feeling, anymore,” Bates said at the media day.  “I’m just gonna go out there and do what we need to do to win games, because that’s what it’s about. … It was a lot of I would say overthinking (last year), and now it’s like ‘let’s go, let’s get to it.'”

That Bates became a father during the offseason is well documented at this point.  That was another major variable hovering over his entire freshman campaign.

Then a great unknown for a 19-year old, now Bates views becoming a father as another factor, perhaps the factor, that has sharpened his focus and resolve.

“I can handle anything that comes my way,” Bates said when asked how fatherhood has made him stronger.  “No task is too large for me to tackle, especially with the army that I have behind me with my family and my teammates.”

Yet another layer of added comfort for Bates this year comes on the court, as he returns to a system he now knows well.  A year ago, he and his teammates spent the summer and fall learning what Woodson wanted.  Now it almost comes by instinct.

“Last year there was a lot of teaching, because he’s trying to instill his system, and how he wants to play offensively and defensively,” Bates said.

“Now that we’ve already been through a year of playing together and playing through his system, it’s like ‘okay, we know exactly what he wants and what he needs.’  Even when we do go back over it, it’s like ‘we’ve done this a thousand times.'”

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