In the days before Indiana returned to campus for the start of fall practice, Tamar Bates his former AAU coaches’ visited house for dinner one night. Though the two stayed in touch, a lot had changed since the last time they were able to sit and chat for several hours. Bates spent his senior year of high school nearly 1,300 miles away from his hometown of Kansas City, Kan., playing at prep powerhouse IMG Academy. A year later, the wiry, 6-foot-5 guard with NBA aspirations found himself in Bloomington, Ind., preparing for his freshman season of college basketball – and also preparing to be a father.
With all the chaos and life-altering events, Bates rarely had enough time to make it back home over the last two years. But this offseason, he prioritized making time for his former coach. And as they watched TV together in the living room, catching up and reminiscing on old memories, their conversation transitioned to parenthood. Bates’ daughter, Leilani, wasn’t even six months old yet at the time, but Bates welcomed any and all advice.
“The main thing I remember from when I was [at the their house]his wife, she just said that the days are long, but the years are fast,” Bates recalled on the Hoosier Hysterics Podcast. “… That’s all I hear, and I’m kind of scared because I’m enjoying this stage right now. It’s just crazy to me; more so what I’m scared of is she’s never going to be a baby again. This is not going to last forever.”
When Indiana opens its 2022-23 season Nov. 7 against Morehead State, Leilani will be nearly eight months old, and whether she’s watching her dad play from inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall or somewhere on a television, it’s a constant reminder that Bates’ sophomore season is for so much more than just himself.
But it isn’t a new or recent revelation for Bates. From the moment Leilani was born this past spring and Bates held her in his arms, his mentality seemingly changed like a light switch. He can’t waste a single minute of his day anymore. There’s little time for fooling around or living the typical underclassmen life. When team practice or individual workouts are over, it’s straight back to Bates ‘apartment to spend time with and take care of his daughter, if she’s in Bloomington and not back with the rest of his family in Kansas City.
“It’s a totally different mindset everyday that I wake up,” Bates said. “I don’t have room to say, ‘I don’t feel like it today.’ Those thoughts, even though they may still come into my head, I would be taking away from her if I didn’t really lock in and continue to stay consistent in my work from a day-to -day basis. I’d just be taking away from her, and I would never do that because my parents didn’t do that to me.”
The responsibility and hers that Bates’ parents, Dr. Tyrone and Lajasima, and the rest of his family have taken on with Leilani is n’t lost on Bates, though. When Bates ‘schedule gets too hectic in Bloomington, his family often helps look after her back at home. Bates refers to them as his ‘army,’ those in the background that don’t receive nearly the same attention but are just as big of a piece in fatherhood as himself.
These days, fatherhood has begun to slow down for Bates as he continues to learn all the in’s and out’s. He said Leilani is easy to care for, usually sleeping through the night without much problem, rarely crying as long as someone familiar is within sight.
In a sense, both Tamar and Leilani are growing together, the former through maturity and the latter through experiences. And despite the challenges of their unique situation, they’re learning to make it work – together.
“I am getting into a rhythm,” Bates said, “and I feel like I’m able to find this rhythm simply because of everything my parents and my family do for me back at home when I’m not able to be with Leilani . Like, they take a lot of weight off my shoulders. And I’m so thankful for them.”
Without the support of Bates’ parents, perhaps the dreams of a former five-star recruit one day reaching the NBA are put on the backburner. But those aspirations are still very much alive today, thanks to an army that Bates said has never wavered.
“They don’t want me to put my dreams and what I want to accomplish on hold,” Bates said. “They still want me to continue to go after what I’ve set after in this life. But what I want to do work ultimately gonna help Leilani live the life that I want for her.”
Flashback to early March of last season. Indiana is spiraling downward toward an all-too-familiar late-season collapse and a seventh straight year of missing out on the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers desperately need a spark, a jolt of momentum from any source that might be able to provide it. Perhaps Bates, despite a volatile freshman season to that point, can be part of the solution.
wait – where even is Bates? After averaging a healthy 16.4 minutes per game through IU’s first 25 games of the season, he’s practically nowhere to be found, at least not among the five Hoosiers on the court. That’s because down the stretch, with Indiana needing to scrap for every win possible, Bates found himself sitting on the bench far more than he was running on the floor.
From Feb. 27 to the end of IU’s season seven games later, Bates’ playing time diminished to just 8.0 minutes per game. Only once in that three-week span did Bates log more than 13 minutes in a game, and it came during IU’s blowout loss to St. Mary’s in the Round of 64 when the game was already out of reach.
For all the hype that Bates entered his first season with, it seemingly evaporated as the season went on. Chalk it up as head coach Mike Woodson shortening the rotation and playing IU’s proven veterans over the struggling underclassmen. But regardless of the whyBates couldn’t help but second-guess himself and his abilities as his playing time and role diminished.
“My confidence did taper a little bit, especially in Big Ten play where there was a few consecutive games where I didn’t play in the second half,” Bates said. “It was like, ‘Dang, can I not help the team? I can’t help the team? I can’t help us do anything to help us win games?’ So it’s like, [at the time] I’m questioning myself and what I can really do and how good I really am. Because, like I said, when I’m in it, I’m not really thinking that’s what’s going through my head.”
Entering this past offseason, Bates could’ve let his frustrations stew. He could’ve let the lack of minutes toward the end of the season fester into a rash decision. The ever-present transfer portal was always right there for him to enter. Besides, what former five-star wants to return to a team where he was used sparingly in the biggest moments of the season?
Tamar Bates, that’s who. And the transfer portal? Not a chance.
“The transfer portal never crossed my mind,” Bates said. “I’m like, ‘I’ma be alright. I’ma go back and figure out what it is I need to do and what that coaches need from me. And I’ma respond how I always have.’ So the whole decision to stay was pretty easy because I never really thought about it or talked about it with my parents… that’s just not me.”
In the early days of the offseason, Bates said he received several texts from friends and peers asking if he might transfer. After all, Bates hadn’t posted anything on social media that explicitly indicated he was staying at Indiana – in this transfer era, some sort of social media post is seemingly the expectation.
But Bates’ silence spoke volumes. He did n’t need a fancy ‘I’m back’ video or an over-the-top graphic to reaffirm his allegiance to Woodson and the Hoosiers. In his mind, getting right back in the gym and looking ahead toward his second season at IU was the only press or fanfare necessary.
“That’s just not how I was raised, like not in any situation I’ve ever been in,” Bates said. “That’s just my nature and that’s just what my parents always taught me: you don’t run from tough situations. We go back, we figure out what we could’ve done better, we self-reflect, we learn and then we attack It again. Like, I’m coming right back. Just because it gets tough, that doesn’t mean you should lose any confidence or not believe in yourself or the team.”
So Bates did just that this offseason: attack it again. He ticked off his first set of goals fairly quickly, which was to put on weight and mass, getting to around 200 pounds by the start of fall practice. The other focal points included improved ball-handling and perimeter shooting. Bates said the coaching staff wants him to shoot at least 40 percent from 3-point range this season, while also being able to play backup point guard if necessary. So far, Bates said he’s made strides this offseason, but it remains a work in progress until the season tips off.
The latter can be said about Bates in most other areas, too. He’s only a sophomore in college. He’s not even 21 yet. He’s learning how to be a father. He’s willing to own whatever role is necessary to help title-minded Indiana. He’s in pursuit of NBA dreams.
He’s still a work in progress.
“I did what nobody else wants to do anymore. it gets tough and everybody wanna run,” Bates said. “… I feel like, for me, just how I was raised and how I kind of want my journey to shake out, I like when the odds are against me or my back is against the wall, because it just makes the story a whole lot better.
“Everybody can talk as much as they want to, but nobody really expects me to respond how I plan to this season.”
All quotes in this story are from the Hoosier Hysterics Podcast.