New dad Tamar Bates approaching season at IU with new purpose after down freshman year

At 5 a.m. the morning after his challenging freshman season ended with Indiana's NCAA first-round tournament loss to Saint Mary's, Tamar Bates got on a plane to Utah and then home to Kansas City, knowing he didn't have any time to waste.

"I was going to make sure I was there," Bates said. "No doubt."

Because two days later, on March 20, he became a father for the first time. His girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, Leilani Nicole Bates. And his world changed in an instant.

He walked into the hospital nervous for obvious reasons. After all, he'd never witnessed the birth of a child before, let alone his own. He walked out with his goals set for the rest of his life.

"It's just puts me in a whole different state of mind," Bates said. "I'm talking as soon as I saw her, it's kind of like just a flipped switch. Now, everything that I'm doing, all the work that I'm putting in, it's not just for me. I want to provide for her and my family. It's like getting up, those early mornings, late nights and doing everything that I've been doing, I'm a lot more focused because I have a purpose, I would say. It's been beautiful."

The clarity came at an important time for Bates as a basketball player and as a human, because he hadn't expected his freshman year to be nearly as much of a slog as it was.

Rated No. 30 in the Class of 2021 in the 247Sports composite rankings, Bates had won a Kansas Class 4A state title as a sophomore at Kansas City's Piper High School and might have won another as a junior had the outbreak of COVID-19 not ended the state tournament in the semifinals. He spent his senior year at IMG Academy doing everything coach Sean McAloon could ask a wing to do on both sides of the floor against a schedule of national powerhouses.

Everything started well at Indiana as he put together two impressive performances in August scrimmages against BC Mega in the Bahamas. The 6-5 left-hander scored in double figures three times in his first eight games and was averaging 7.1 points per game and shooting 46.7% from the floor (21 of 45) after his 13-point performance in a Dec. 4 win over Nebraska.

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But after that, the bottom of his season fell out. In the first seven games of January, he scored a combined four points on 2 of 16 shooting. His minutes dropped drastically after that as effectively fell to the edge and sometimes off of the Indiana rotation. His season had a few bright spots, but his 13-point performance at Michigan State on Feb. 12 marked the only time in the season's final 24 games that he scored more than seven points. He had 10 appearances in that stretch in which he did not score at all.

Bates finished the season averaging just 3.9 points per game and shooting 33.8% from the floor and 29.8% from the 3-point arc (17 of 57). In his final 24 games of the season, he averaged 2.8 points and shot 27.1% from the field.

So Bates went into the offseason knowing he'd need to make a leap to become the star guard he went to Indiana expecting to be and to help an Indiana team reach its expectation of being a Big Ten championship contender in 2022-23. The birth of his daughter clarified the stakes even further.

"I would say my new purpose is to provide and put food on the table for her," Bates said. "... I just want to make sure she doesn't have to worry about anything, and just give her the world and everything that she can ever dream about, but at the same time instill things in her that were instilled in me which is that you have to work for everything that you get."

So that Bates can put the food on the table figuratively down the road, his parents and the rest of his family are helping his girlfriend do so literally for now. Tamar has spent the summer session in Bloomington while Leilani stayed in Kansas City with them, which allowed him to focus on his game without some of the exhausting moments that come with parenting an infant.

Bates has used that time to develop in the weight room. He arrived on campus in 2021 weighing 178 pounds and said he played most of last season between 183 and 185 even though he was listed at 190. He said he's now up to 200 pounds.

The added muscle should allow him to do a better job at finishing through contact after he made just 11 of 25 attempts at the rim last season according to What's just as important, he said, is maintaining his strength and conditioning, throughout the season, something he said he's now more prepared to do.

"The biggest part is actually taking care of your body, doing more things," Bates said. "It's a long season, long practices, you're traveling all the time. We're in the weight room and training and we're conditioning, but I feel like I did a much better job of taking care of my body, stretching, doing yoga, doing things that we say, we call it like a credit to our body."

A stronger body makes him better on both sides of the floor, and he needs to be. He didn't shoot up to his standards after hitting 40% of his 3s as a senior at IMG and 44.1% as a junior at Piper, and he also didn't defend as well as he's used to. As a high schooler, he took pride in being able to lock down opponents at multiple positions, but he wasn't nearly as impactful as a freshman.

He did, however, bring positive energy to his teammates from the bench. His leadership is also something he takes pride in, and it can be more impactful if he's also successful on the court.

"I was just talking with our (graduate assistants) and you know, we were talking about just how (Golden State forward) Andrew Wiggins, like how his career and just his role has been like put under a brighter light now because he had a big role on a winning team," Bates said. "How can you have a role like that to impact the winning team. I feel like, you know, just doing what I do. Like not getting outside of myself. Like I said, you know, I can be really good offensively and be good defensively. But I feel like one of my biggest (potential contributions) is just having energy and my competitive spirit."

Positionally, Bates can find minutes at a number of spots. He's naturally a shooting guard, and that position is open with the departure of Parker Stewart. The small forward position is increasingly indistinguishable from the shooting guard in modern offenses, including Mike Woodson's four-out, one-in system, so he can also play there if, for instance, the Hoosiers put point guards Xavier Johnson and Jalen Hood-Schifino on the floor together.

But Bates also wants to have the capability to handle point guard duties, even if there's no chance he'll start there. It could add versatility to the offense if he occasionally brings the ball up and allows Johnson and/or Hood-Schifino to move around. He has as much ability as anyone else on the roster to score at all three levels, and he also wants to prove he can create for others. He finished with just 20 assists to 22 turnovers last season, but he averaged 4.1 per game as a high school junior.

"I've always been able to create my own shot and get to my spots but I feel like where I really need to improve is my ball handling, decision-making," Bates said, "and being able to take on some of that leading guard role and help some of the other guys we have."

With summer session coming to a close, Bates thinks he's made progress towards each of his goals. And a big reason why is Leilani has always been on his mind.

I would just say that her being born was, it was the thing that I didn't know that I needed," Bates said. "It gave me a different kind of focus, different kind of drive, different kind of motivation. And it came at the perfect time."

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Indiana basketball: G Tamar Bates inspired by baby daughter Leilani