If convincing Trayce Jackson-Davis in early April 2021 to return to Indiana for his junior year was Act One of dismantling some observers’ perception or even prediction that Indiana men’s basketball coach Mike Woodson wouldn’t be able to recruit at a high level, then Woodson landing blue-chip recruit Tamar Bates was Act Two, after Bates reopened his recruitment following Shaka Smart’s move from Texas to Marquette.
Bates, ranked by the 247Sports Composite rankings as a high-end four-star recruit and the No. 30 player in his recruiting class, ranks as the program’s 10th-highest-rated recruit in the modern era, according to 247Sports, wedged between his 2022 teammates Khristian Lander and Trayce Jackson-Davis. While from a 30,000-foot view recruiting rankings prove to be a fairly strong measure of future production and career arcs — top-10 recruits are almost guaranteed to play in the NBA someday, for example — that last sentence shows how fickle recruiting rankings can be on an individual basis.
It’s arguably fitting that Bates’ recruiting ranking within the program’s annals places him between Lander, who announced his decision to transfer to Western Kentucky after failing to earn a meaningful role in two seasons at Indiana, and Jackson-Davis, who could finish his college career among Indiana’s all-time statistical leaders if he returns for his senior year.
As a borderline five-star recruit, Bates arrived at Indiana with the prep pedigree that excited the fan base in Woodson’s first season, but in many of the Hoosiers’ pivotal games late in the season, the freshman guard barely played. One of his two non-suspension-related DNPs came against Michigan in Indiana’s first game in the Big Ten tournament. He followed that up by playing four minutes against Illinois, then just two against Iowa.
However, he played a combined 27 minutes in the team’s two NCAA tournament games and he averaged 20 minutes per game during the final five games in February. His play and his production was inconsistent, to say the least, which is hardly a rarity for a freshman, but for a fan base, and maybe even a team, that often wanted more from its backcourt — more capable outside shooting, more shot creation, more stability — Bates wasn’t an immediate solution.
After scoring 11 and 10 points in consecutive games against St. John’s and Louisiana, respectively, followed by 13 in his Big Ten debut against Nebraska four games later, Bates scored a combined 12 points over Indiana’s next seven games. There were 15 games (13 in which he played) in between his double-digit scoring performances against Big Ten competition, with him scoring 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting in a lopsided loss at Michigan State.
It’s admittedly hard for a shooter, especially a player who could project to be a volume scorer, to find a rhythm amid inconsistent shot attempts. He attempted three field goals or fewer in 17 of his 32 appearances. He had moments, sure. The former top-30 recruit who’s nickname is “Scoop” may have shown glimpses of what his future at Indiana could be, when he scored those 11 points against St. John’s, which was the team’s first high-profile game of the season and one in which guard Trey Galloway left the game in the opening minutes after being fouled hard by an opponent.
Bates made three 3-pointers against Nebraska, he went two for two from deep against both Marshall and Penn State, and he made a gutsy, deep 3-pointer in Indiana’s road loss at Ohio State.
But overall on the season, he was just a 29.8-percent 3-point shooter on almost two attempts per game. His offensive rating was well below-average at 86.9, per kenpom.com.
Below are Bates’ per-game and advanced stats from last season, with the latter coming from kenpom.com.
Bates was ranked as the sixth-best shooting guard in the 2021 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and last April, 247Sports’ Jerry Meyer projected him as a future second-round NBA draft pick, so there are reasons for Indiana fans to be optimistic about Bates’ future after a freshman campaign in which he averaged 3.9 points per game. The decisions to transfer by Lander, Parker Stewart and Rob Phinisee vacate a combined 51.5 minutes per game and another offseason in a college strength and conditioning program could surely help Bates as well.
But going forward, he’ll also have to contend for playing time with half of the players who are in a top-10 2022 recruiting class that’s headlined by five-star combo guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, plus three-star shooting guard CJ Gunn.
While Hood-Schifino is rated higher as a prospect than Bates was a year ago, Bates could also serve as a reminder for Indiana fans to not overestimate the immediate impact of a highly regarded freshman. If Jackson-Davis returns, then the 2022-23 Hoosiers will have their top three scorers back from last season and five of their top six. There will be opportunity for the addition of new role players or even new roles in some cases, but there will also be numerous mainstays, especially in the frontcourt.
For Bates, a successful sophomore season could be doubling his freshman-season scoring average — a jump to seven or eight points per game seems reasonable, no? — while contending for a role as the team’s first guard off the bench. While players of Bates’ recruiting background, those that were high four-stars, may not always make the immediate impact in college like the players that were ranked just ahead of them, the trade-off is that they’re more likely to spend longer in college and develop into well-rounded players as sophomores, juniors or seniors. That’s Indiana fans’ hope for Bates, and with Woodson’s staff bringing in a bonafide five-star guard in 2022, that’s likely Bates’ hope, too.