That Keita Bates-Diop’s departure from the Ohio State basketball team with a year of eligibility left could be at once expected and surprising probably makes it the perfect final act for one of the weirdest years ever for the program.
Especially since his entry into the NBA draft is not even really early in the grand scheme of things.
Let me explain.
Of course the Big Ten Player of the Year should be a potential NBA commodity the following spring, especially one who is 6-foot-7 with long arms and 3-point range.
And as a national top 30 recruit four years ago, Bates-Diop probably once assumed the only reason he wouldn’t be in the 2018 NBA draft would be he had already entered the 2017 version — if not 2016.
And yet “KBD” said Monday he didn’t expect he would be making such announcement at this time a year ago.
That’s because Ohio State basketball was headed in the wrong direction last March, and he was still recovering from surgery that wiped out most of his third season on campus.
After surpassing almost all expectations to finish second in the Big Ten and return to the NCAA tournament, the 2018 Ohio State team will go down as one of the most memorable Buckeye squads — especially among those that did not make it to the Final Four.
Bates-Diop will always be remembered as the driving force behind the team’s success, which is ironic because he told Holtmann the 25-win season helped make his decision to leave easier.
Holtmann joked about wishing he had known losing a few more games might have convinced his best player to stick around for on more season, but the coach was serious when he said Monday was a good day for his program, a day for celebration.
Another top two finish in the Big Ten standings might be a tall task — or it might not, considering the surprises of the last 12 months — in 2019, but KDB’s breakout year just might help Holtmann in the long run more than it hurts him next season.
As mentioned, Bates-Diop was always considered a player with NBA ability, but for a variety of reasons he was unable to show it much before Holtmann arrived.
If those projecting Bates-Diop’s NBA draft prospects are correct, Holtmann will be down one pro player next season but have another important card to play in the never-ending recruiting game for years to come.
That’s probably a trade he’s willing to make every time.
Holtmann’s ability to coach is not in question, but like most who rise to the top of the college basketball coaching food chain, his ability to recruit elite players will ultimately decide his fate at Ohio State.
In stints as head coach at Gardner-Webb and Butler, he proved he can develop players and teams. That was also evident in year one at Ohio State as Bates-Diop was just one of several Buckeyes to have career years.
The Buckeyes showed great progress individually and collectively throughout the season, validating athletics director Gene Smith’s decision to replace Matta with Holtmann despite Matta’s impressive legacy as the coach of the Scarlet and Gray.
One of the things Matta did very early in his Ohio State career was prove he could recruit first-round NBA-caliber talent, which no doubt led to more recruiting victories down the road.
Showing a hot-shot high schooler you can send players to the pros is more effective than telling them.
Since roster building has become nearly a year-round process these days, Holtmann could yet replace Bates-Diop with a player who can contribute this fall, but he probably won’t find another Bates-Diop at this point in the calendar.
He has signed three top 100 recruits so far at Ohio State, but none thought of as highly as KBD was four years ago.
Of course, Matta hadn’t signed any such players when he got to Ohio State, either, but he did have NBA draftees David West and Romain Sato (of Dayton Christian) on his resume after inheriting them at Xavier.
Now it looks like Bates-Diop, who is of course a Matta recruit, ironically could give Holtmann a similar resume boost for the Buckeyes.
Circle of life?
More like another example of the truth being stranger than fiction.
And that makes for a perfect way to start the next chapter.
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