BOISE, Idaho — Keita Bates-Diop flipped up one last deep shot, again pulling off something difficult and making it look casual and easy as the Ohio State forward watched it drop through the rim.
The shot didn’t change anything other than the final score as the buzzer sounded, but it might wind up being meaningful in another way for the Buckeyes.
Were those his final points with Ohio State before skipping off to the NBA? It’s always better to leave the gym on a made jumper, of course, even if that final 3-pointer in a 90-84 loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament’s second round wasn’t the kind of final memory Bates-Diop would ideally want.
“I would say it’s jumping the gun because I haven’t really thought about it,” the junior said at his locker on Saturday night. “I was just trying to focus on the season. Me and coach talked about it, just focus on the season and don’t worry about anything else until afterwards. Now I’ll think about it with my family and coaches.
“I’m just trying to focus on spending the rest of my time here with the seniors that are definitely not coming back.”
Those losses are going to be significant for the Buckeyes regardless of what Bates-Diop eventually decides about his future. But there’s no question that getting a commitment from the Big Ten Player of the Year to return for another season would dramatically alter the expectations for coach Chris Holtmann’s second year with the program.
It is certainly safer at this point to assume that the projected first-round draft pick will decide to jump to the next level, and he can’t be blamed for cashing in after breaking out this season as one of the nation’s top performers. Bates-Diop has size, great shooting touch and versatile athleticism, and on top of that, he proved more than capable of carrying the load for a team that consistently punched above its weight on the way to the Big Dance.
Assuming those 28 points and that effortless bomb at the final horn were his final acts with the Buckeyes, there will be a huge scoring and rebounding void for Ohio State to fill next year. And with seniors Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich already heading out the door, Ohio State is probably heading for a fairly extensive roster renovation that will again make for an interesting offseason for Holtmann.
“It’s hard, and I don’t know that I’m even ready to go there right now,” Holtmann said. “There’s obviously a moving part with Keita, and I don’t know that I’m ready to go there and think about what next year looks like and what all we need to do to put some finishing touches on our roster. I just don’t know.
“He’s got an incredible support group, a mom and dad that have been pretty in tune with all of us around him. We’ll give it some time to get away from things, I don’t know that it will be this week. I’ll probably have some conversations with his family, but in a week or so we’ll sit down as a group and kind of figure out where to progress. I don’t know that there’s any immediate timeline on that.”
There will be no pressing for a decision from the Buckeyes, who can afford to be patient with somebody who has his ability. And Bates-Diop doesn’t seem to be in a real hurry to finalize any plans at this point, particularly after the crushing disappointment of coming tantalizingly close to an upset that would have sent Ohio State to the Sweet 16.
The Buckeyes already have some solid pieces to build around, most notably with Kyle Young poised to take on a much larger role next season as a sophomore. Musa Jallow might take on more of the scoring load as he develops, Kaleb Wesson is likely going to become a force on the boards as a rebounder and C.J. Jackson can take up the leadership mantle as a senior. Throw in a top-25 recruiting class and Ohio State has the makings of a team that can follow up this year’s return to the Big Dance with another next year.
It’s a stretch to expect Bates-Diop to pass on his solid professional stock to make another run with the Buckeyes, no doubt about that. But if Ohio State could somehow get him back, that would completely change the conversation about what it might accomplish at this time next year.
“I see this type of thing: I feel like we’re back,” Bates-Diop said. “I feel like Ohio State is back. We obviously fell off these last three years, but everybody picked us to finish No. 11 in the Big Ten and we finished second. We made the tournament and we advanced in the tournament.
“That’s what I expect moving forward.”
That projection would be even easier to make with Bates-Diop still in the fold.
But for now, Ohio State will just have to wait and see if he has both taken and made his last shot with the program.