Greater familiarity with the college game and comfort with his new role as a father has helped Tamar Bates find a groove as a sophomore guard.
Indiana fans are hoping his familiarity with the venue the Hoosiers will be playing in on Saturday will help Bates continue his recent run of high-end production on the offensive end.
Before he attended IMG Academy, the Kansas City, Kan. product went to Piper H.S., just 34 miles from the Allen Fieldhouse where he’ll be playing for Indiana on Saturday.
When he made his initial college choice, Bates thought he would be playing at Kansas every year as a member of the Big 12. So he certainly wasn’t ducking this day when he chose to not stay home. While Kansas pursued him hard and was listed by Bates as a finalist in his recruitment, he chose Big 12 rival Texas initially.
And then when he decommitted from Texas, Bates bypassed Lawrence once again.
Now Bates will return home to Kansas on a roll.
He has averaged 16.0 points per game on 13-of-22 (59.1 percent) shooting from the floor and 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) shooting from the 3-point line in IU’s last two games. He has scored in double figures in three of Indiana’s last five games, and he leads all second-unit players in minutes played this season with 214.
A borderline 5-star product out of IMG, Bates had a rocky freshman season that culminated with the birth of his daughter just days after IU’s NCAA Tournament loss to St. Mary’s. Indiana fans and head coach Mike Woodson thought Bates could make a major splash from day one, but that never materialized. But just in the last few weeks, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard seems to be figuring things out, and his confidence seems to be soaring.
“He’s playing well for us,” Woodson said of Bates on Thursday. “When I brought Tamar in, I brought him in to be a starting two. Last year he had his ups and downs on some of the things that he was dealing with.
“This year, he’s starting to grow as a player. I mean, he’s doing some things. I thought when we started our journey at the very beginning (of this summer), he was one of the best players on the floor, him and Xavier.”
Woodson said on his radio show this week he wants to see Bates improve on the defensive end. At 198 pounds, Bates can struggle at times to fight over ball screens, and there have been times when he seems to be late on close-outs or miss on coverage assignments.
In what Woodson regularly refers to as a defense-first program, Bates will likely have to clean that part of his game up before his head coach expands his role further.
But Bates seems on the right path to get there. He’s mature beyond his years, and his teammates often speak highly of his work ethic.
“He is always putting that extra time in to work on his game, and I think that the way he’s been playing recently is a credit to that,” forward Race Thompson said this week. “I think that it’s (his recent level of play) not a surprise to any of us because we see him do it every day.”
Bates was thought of as a major recruiting miss for Kansas, given that he was a local product and he could have filled needs on the roster. No doubt many in the audience on Saturday (Noon Eastern, ESPN2) will be well aware of that.
It will be a key test in Bates’ development, as he needs to start playing well on the road with Big Ten play looming. To this point in his career, Bates is averaging just 3.0 points per game while shooting just 26.4 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three in true road contests.
And while Bates no doubt will have friends and family there in support, Saturday might just be the least friendly environment he’ll face.
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