At the front of every goal Jae’Sean Tate set for his Ohio State career came a desire to do the most good for his team. For the last two seasons, that has often meant trying to drag a disjointed team up and down the court as a go-to player.
Now as a senior, that role has changed. With the emergence of Keita Bates-Diop as a legitimate candidate for Big Ten player of the year, Tate doesn’t have to be the key guy for the Buckeyes anymore. He’s taking slightly fewer shots, scoring fewer points per game and seeing slightly less playing time than he has in the last two seasons.
He’s loving it because the No. 14 Buckeyes, who enter tonight’s game at No. 3 Purdue with a chance to move atop the conference standings, are finally winning.
“I didn’t come here thinking that I was going to be the leading scorer, the leading rebounder, whatever,” Tate said. “I just came here to the Ohio State University because of the tradition and the history that they had. In the past years I’ve had to take on that role, but I don’t care. If you look at the last couple of years, yeah, my numbers might have been better, but we were still losing.
“That was the biggest thing that I hated most is that every night I took the court, I was going to give my all and it just wasn’t enough.”
As Ohio State went a combined 38-29 and 18-18 in the Big Ten, Tate was named honorable mention all-conference in each of the last two years. When it came to a head last season and the Buckeyes were passed over for an NIT berth, Tate had posted career-high averages in scoring (14.3), rebounds (6.4), shots (10.4) and minutes (31.9).
All of those numbers are down slightly this season as Bates-Diop has emerged, and it has been the source of zero drama. Coach Chris Holtmann said no conversation has ever taken place where he had to explain to Tate why his statistical impact might dip.
“Winning certainly helps, but I think it begins with the kind of person that JT is,” Holtmann said. “I think he recognized that he’d rather be winning and be one of the guys versus losing and being the guy. I think he’s accepted the benefits of that, because I’ve had coaches say to me, ‘Wow, he’s a different player. He’s a more complete player.’ ”
Mike DeCourcy, who covers college basketball for the Sporting News and serves as a Big Ten Network analyst, said Holtmann’s first-year success is as much because of Tate’s role acceptance as Bates-Diop’s production.
“The biggest thing was reimagining Jae’Sean as the player that he really is and not the player that he felt he had to be last year because they weren’t very good,” DeCourcy said. “He’s a really interesting weapon in the Big Ten, but a year ago he either had to do too much or felt he had to do too much, and right now he’s doing exactly what he’s great at.”
That has meant putting aside any ego or personal agenda for the good of the team. Tate has even helped run the point when the Buckeyes have turned to him out of necessity, and he’s averaging a career-high 2.8 assists per game.
He used the phrase “less is more” on multiple occasions to describe his overall impact this season.
“Everything I could ask for in my senior year, it’s finally happening,” he said. “I think the term ‘stay the course,’ it applies so much to this team and this four years here. I’m just happy I’m a part of it.”