COLUMBUS, Ohio — Keita Bates-Diop’s stellar play in Chris Holtmann’s first season helped mask the recruiting deficiencies that marked the end of the Thad Matta era.
The Buckeyes will have to do it without him next year, however. Bates-Diop declared for the 2018 NBA Draft on Monday and announced he’ll hire an agent. Doing so would end his NCAA eligibility, preventing him from pulling out of the draft before June 11 and returning to Ohio State. The amount of points and rebounds Ohio State is losing from this the 2017-18 team will nearly double, as Bates-Diop averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 boards per contest.
It’s a big loss for the Buckeyes, as Bates-Diop’s ascent to one of college basketball’s best players helped paper over what was a thin roster with some holes in it because of recruiting misses. Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class, a group that would be entering its fourth season this fall, was ranked No. 5 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings. But all five players were gone within two seasons, and four of them didn’t even make it to Year 2. The 2016 class lost its highest-rated player and only 4-star prospect when Derek Funderburk was dismissed shortly after Holtmann arrived in June 2017.
There’s a gaping hole in the Ohio State roster, thanks to a combination of those departures as well as the recruits that never ended up in Columbus in the first place. The emergence of Bates-Diop, who returned from a season-ending injury to become Big Ten Player of the Year, helped disguise the Buckeyes’ missing talent. A roster that was expected to be a multi-year rebuild instead became an NCAA Tournament team. But those expectations may need to be recalibrated with the departure of Bates-Diop and three other seniors — JaeSean Tate, Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich.
The good news for Ohio State fans is that Holtmann inherited a team that had seven scholarship players and turned it into an NCAA Tournament team. It helps, obviously, that the Buckeyes had a budding superstar hidden on the roster but Holtmann also added Dakich and freshmen Musa Jallow and Kyle Young after arriving in Columbus.
The 2018-19 team will benefit from returning starters Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson, but it also will need young players such as Micah Potter, Jallow and Young to make the leap to consistent contributors. It’s also possible Holtmann could bring in a graduate transfer or that incoming freshmen Luther Muhammad or Jaedon LeDee could provide a first-year spark.
But that’s all asking a lot from several different areas for the Buckeyes to avoid a drop-off from this season. The reality is that Holtmann might once again be able to overachieve despite the roster problems he inherited, but what Bates-Diop brought to Ohio State probably won’t be immediately replaceable.