Tamar Bates: Mike Woodson promised ‘to make me a better man’

Indiana jumped into four-star shooting guard Tamar Bates’ recruitment immediately after his March 29 de-commitment from Texas, following coach Shaka Smart’s decision to leave the Longhorns for Marquette. Assistant coach Kenya Hunter led the charge, and he, head coach Mike Woodson and the rest of the staff made the pitch for how the 6-foot-5, left-handed sharpshooter would fit in as exactly what they needed to bring a more modern style of basketball to Indiana.

But the Hoosiers made him one guarantee, and one guarantee only.

“Coach Woodson stressed to me that I will become a better man,” Bates said by phone Monday. “They stressed how important it was to build me off the court. Because at some point, the ball will stop bouncing. Everybody knows that. People in my path are starting to understand how important it is to be a good person off the court, simple things like ‘Thank you,’ ‘yes ma’am,’ ‘yes, sir,’ take you pretty far. That’s what people are more concerned about as we get older. They know we can put the ball in the basket and produce on the floor. They want to know how good of a person we are and if people enjoy being around us. That’s something they told me will happen. That was the only promise that was made to me is that I would become a better man. And that’s really important to me.”

That was a large part of what made Bates decide to commit to Indiana Monday, giving newly-hired head coach Mike Woodson his first high school recruit as a college coach after previously landing Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson. Bates is the No. 56 player in the Class of 2021 and chose the Hoosiers over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Marquette and Illinois.

The desire to be a well-rounded human was a driving force for his college decision, and it was also something that made him an asset as a player at both IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this season and at Piper High School in Kansas City, Kan., before that.

“First, he’s just a phenomenal kid,” IMG coach Sean McAloon said. “Just infectious personality, never really a down day. Type of guy that just every day brings something to the table positive and forces everybody else to get on that same level. He brings it every day. He has energy in practice. He’s not afraid to call guys out if they’re not doing what they need to do. He’ll let you know but he doesn’t do it in a way that puts you off.”

David Birch, Bates’ coach at Piper and now the head coach of Shawnee Mission Northwest in Kansas noticed the same.

“I have coached AAU and high school for over six years now, Birch told the Daily Hoosier by email, “and I have never met a player with the leadership quantities that Tamar has.”

Bates cares about relationships, and that was a big part of the reason he bonded quickly with Woodson. Woodson has maintained a close relationship with his college coach, Bob Knight, since he was recruited out of Indianapolis in the mid-70s. Woodson promised Bates the same commitment.

“He was just like, ‘Our relationship is going to go far past IU,'” Bates said of Woodson. “He said, ‘Our relationship is going to last for the rest of your life.’ And it’s the same thing with the entire coaching staff. It wasn’t just the assistant that led my recruitment. It was all the coaches who talked that way.”

That made Indiana an obvious fit for Bates on a personal level, but under Woodson there’s also an obvious fit on the floor.

The newly-hired Woodson wants to play a wide-open, four-out, one-in, NBA style of offense after 24 years as a coach in the league and a decade as a player. However, the Hoosiers struggled to shoot from outside under former coach Archie Miller, finishing 11th in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage at 32.4 percent and last in 3-pointers made with 158. That makes it hard to keep the floor spaced the way Woodson would want. Guards Aljami Durham (Providence) and Armaan Franklin (Virginia) transferred after the season after finishing first and second on the team in 3-pointers and they were responsible for 74 of the 158 makes.

Bates should help fill the obvious need for shooters on the wings. He shot 40 percent from 3 for IMG Academy in 2020-21 and 46 percent from beyond the arc at Piper in 2019-20 when he was the Class 4A Kansas Player of the Year and averaged 21.3 points per game.

Bates also fits on the defensive end. At 6-5 with an extensive wingspan, he can defend on the ball or off the ball and should be able to guard multiple positions.

“He just said that the way he likes to play, I really embody that,” Bates said. “He really wants to get to it on both ends of the floor. I feel like I’m a two-way player. He wants to get stops and then get out and run fast. Have a fast-paced offense, and play free. I’m sure he’d like to implement a lot of NBA style things in our offense. I feel like I can thrive under him.”

The Hoosiers have more depth right now at the point guard spot than they do at the off-guard positions with Pittsburgh transfer point guard Xavier Johnson having been added to a group that already included junior Rob Phinisee and freshman Khristian Lander. Bates is much more likely to get work at the 2 and 3 where there are more minutes to go around with Tennessee-Martin transfer Parker Stewart and freshmen Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway being the other main options at those spots. But Bates got more work running the point this season at IMG Academy and feels comfortable in that situation as well as spotting up away from the basketball.

“I was in those situations a lot, just learning more about the point guard position,” Bates said. “Ball screen reads, all that type of stuff, learning how to run a team, shift momentum and stuff. I was in those positions all year. I got a lot of preparation for that.”

He’s also well-prepared to have a voice. He’ll be one of two freshman along with center Logan Duncomb on a team that will include a fifth-year player in Race Thompson, three fourth-year players and an increasingly vocal third-year player in Trayce Jackson-Davis, coming off an All-American season. It won’t be his locker room, but he is ready to add something to it.

“That’s just how I’m wired, really,” Bates said. “… I’m a real high-energy guy. I’m trying to learn how to be an immediate communicator. I want to be the loudest guy and the loudest team in the gym.”

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