Swaddled by reporters after Ohio State’s 90-84 loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop wasn’t yet sure of his future.
A fourth-year junior, Bates-Diop has an NBA decision to make. Should he stay at Ohio State for one final season or head to the NBA and realize the dream of any kid who has ever taken a jumper in his driveway or in a park or in a school gymnasium?
“I haven’t really decided or thought about that,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on spending the rest of my time here with the seniors that are definitely not coming back. I’ll talk with my family and talk with the coaches and all that and determine it soon.”
Much like this season as a whole, KBD’s rise to NBA prospect was unforeseen as well. The potential has always been there, but by the middle of the season, it was clear that this decision was going to be coming.
Saying goodbye to him right now, however, is a bit premature.
“Yeah, I would say it’s jumping the gun because I haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “I tried to focus on the season. Me and Coach talked about just focusing on the season, don’t worry anything about that until afterward. I’ll think about it and talk to my family about it in the next few days.”
After he sits down with his family, he will then sit down with Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann.
“We’ll sit down with he and his family here in a week or so. There’s no rush to get into that. He’ll spend some time with his family and then we’ll sit together with his family,” Holtmann said.
“He’s got an incredible support group with a mom and dad who have been pretty in-tuned to all of this around him now. We’ll give it some time to get away from things. I don’t know if it will be this week. I’ll probably have some conversations with his family. We’ll give it some time and in a week or so we’ll sit down as a group and figure out where to progress. I don’t know that there’s an immediate timeline on that.”
Now, this kind of stuff gets said before every single player leaves for the pros, but it also gets said before a player stays.
If you check the various mock drafts that are out there, half don’t even have KBD in the first round. Those that do have in him the first round have him towards the bottom — CBS, ESPN, and Bleacher Report all have him No. 25 in a 30-pick first round.
Of course, as we have seen over the years, being a first-round draft pick has very little to do with whether or not a player leaves. Heck, a future in the NBA has very little to do with it at times.
For Bates-Diop, however, he clearly has an NBA future. He just has to decide whether to begin that future sooner rather than later.
Being one year older isn’t necessarily a positive when teams are so infatuated with untapped potential. Going from playing 35 minutes a night this season to just 10 or 15 next season isn’t ideal, but if the checks still cash, a player can get over it.
Being a finished product with one more season under his belt, however, would have him more ready to contribute immediately. Teams would certainly get more bang for their buck if he were to come in firing at his best.
But What If?
He’s probably gone, so why even entertain the possibilities, right?
If he decides to leave now, the Buckeyes are going to look dramatically different than they did this season. If he stays, however, the potential is there for a deeper run than they made this season.
Aside from Bates-Diop, Ohio State will return just seven scholarship players next year, but will be adding four true freshman. With room for 13 scholarships, even if KBD decides to return, the Buckeyes could add a graduate transfer like they did with Andrew Dakich last season.
What would Ohio State look like if Keita Bates-Diop did decide to return?
Well, C.J. Jackson returns for his third year as a starting point guard — unless Chris Holtmann can lure in a grad transfer and Jackson can perhaps slide over to the two.
If he can’t, Musa Jallow will be a sophomore next season, and he will battle with incoming guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington. The three of them could all rotate in a four-guard lineup next year with Andre Wesson. Washington will also likely be spelling Jackson at times at the point.
Washington is talented, but Holtmann might not want his backup point guard to be a true freshman, which is why a graduate transfer will be important. I’m putting a list together of possibilities.
Incoming freshman wing Justin Ahrens will also add to the shooting that the Buckeyes have been missing this year, but his time might have to wait a year or so.
KBD would man the four, and do it very well. Kaleb Wesson will give Ohio State one of the best centers in the Big Ten. Micah Potter and Kyle Young will add depth to both spots. Another year for both is only going to increase their respective games. Incoming freshman Jaedon LeDee has a skill set a lot like Bates-Diop’s, so who better to learn under, right?
PG C.J. Jackson/Grad Transfer/Duane Washington/Joey Lane
SG Musa Jallow/C.J Jackson/Luther Muhammad/Duane Washington/Grad Transfer
SF Andre Wesson/Musa Jallow/Luther Muhammad/Justin Ahrens/Grad Transfer
PF Keita Bates-Diop/Kyle Young/Jaedon LeDee
C Kaleb Wesson/Micah Potter
There are some significant possibilities for this team if KBD returns. You shouldn’t get your hopes up for it, but if Holtmann wants to build off of this season, getting the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year for one final season would be a hell of a start.
His presence could also be an incredible lure for a grad transfer guard looking to land with a team that can make a run.
It may be an exercise in futility, but it’s still fun to think about.
If Keita Bates-Diop leaves — which he probably will — Ohio State basketball will eventually be fine. The Buckeyes have the right man in charge.
If he were to stay, however, what a season it could be.