BOISE, Idaho — The most enjoyable season of Keita Bates-Diop’s career has led him to the most difficult decision of his life.
Saturday night at Taco Bell Arena, the Ohio State junior forward scored 28 points but saw his season end with a 90-84 loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It put an official period on a season in which he blossomed into a star, being named Big Ten player of the year honors and a second-team All-American.
Now comes what is literally a million-dollar question: Will Bates-Diop return to Ohio State for a fifth season or opt for the NBA? With red eyes seated on a stool in front of his locker in a crowded locker room, Bates-Diop said he’s going to take some time before making any decisions.
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“I’ll talk with my family and the coaches about what’s the best decision for me moving forward, but as of right now, these next couple hours I’ll enjoy being with these guys,” he said. “It will probably be the hardest decision I will ever make, either way, just because I love this group of guys. It’s been my best year so far, not just statistically, just group-of-guys-wise, just wins, just how we got the wins where everybody picked us.
“It’s just all those things and how we came together and proved everybody wrong.”
Picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll conducted by The Dispatch and The Athletic, the Buckeyes finished one game out of first place in coach Chris Holtmann’s first season. They earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, making their first appearance since Bates-Diop’s freshman season.
He was a driving reason for the success. After averaging 9.7 points in only nine games before taking a medical redshirt last season, Bates-Diop averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds this year and posted 12 double-doubles.
In a mock draft posted to CBSSports.com on Thursday, he was projected to be taken No. 25 overall by Portland. Eligible college players have until April 22 to declare for the draft, and they can do so without hiring an agent to get further draft feedback. Those who do so then have until June 11 to withdraw from the draft and keep their collegiate eligibility intact.
“He’s got an incredible support group with a mom and dad that have been pretty in tune to all of this around him right now,” Holtmann said. “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 we’ll give it some time, maybe a week or so, then sit down as a group and figure out where to progress. I don’t know where there’s any immediate timeline on that.”
Should Bates-Diop not return, Ohio State is slated to return 56.7 percent of its scoring.
After a monster freshman season at Michigan State, Miles Bridges turned down the chance to be a lottery pick to return to the Spartans. While playing in the Big Ten tournament in New York in late February, he told The Dispatch he had no regrets about his decision because it has helped him learn how to play better perimeter defense and become more of an all-around player.
“I accomplished a lot of the goals I wanted to accomplish last year,” he said. “I’ve been having fun with my teammates (this year). It’s a blessing to be here in this predicament, playing for Michigan State. I’m just happy to be here. I love all my teammates and I want to win with them. If we can continue to win, it’ll continue to be fun.”
The same went for Michigan’s Moritz Wagner, who said the season helped him become a better defender and rebounder while disagreeing with the thought that this year was just “another go-around.”
“Another go-around? I love it here,” he said. “It’s not a go-around, it’s that I love the team, I love the coaches. I have nothing to complain about. I’m just trying to win as many games as we can as a team.”
Bates-Diop said he’ll also likely reach out to former Buckeyes such as Evan Turner and Deshaun Thomas, both of whom left after their junior seasons. D’Angelo Russell, who was the No. 2 overall pick after his freshman season, probably won’t get a call, Bates-Diop said.
Seeing the season end like this will have an impact, he said.
“It definitely makes it harder that it didn’t end like we wanted it to,” Bates-Diop said. “We could’ve gone further. We had the lead (late), so it’s hard to say things right now because we’re still very emotional.”