At San Antonio, Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop finalist for NBA community assist award

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

There are some numbers that show the impact Keita Bates-Diop is making in his community. Through his efforts as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, the Ohio State product can count off the number of automated external defibrillators he’s been able to purchase for places in need and the number of CPR classes sponsored that have increased the overall number of people certified in the lifesaving technique.

Now there are two numbers that could lead to a much bigger one. As one of 10 finalists for the NBA’s Bob Lanier Community Assist award, Bates-Diop has a chance to earn a $25,000 donation to the charity he has partnered with.

So while winning an award isn’t the reason Bates-Diop has been an advocate for this particular cause, it would help him continue to make a more significant impact.

Plus, it’s personal. An AED and a prepared athletic trainer were responsible for saving the life of Bates-Diop’s younger brother, Kai, when he collapsed at a high school basketball practice in 2017.

“Growing up, you see AEDs or certified trainers, but having those things actually be used in your life broadens the perspective,” Bates-Diop said. “Let’s make sure it’s in a lot of places or every place has someone nearby who knows CPR. We were fortunate that multiple people were there that knew how to use those two things immediately but a lot of people aren’t that lucky. It happens a lot more than people realize.”

Ohio State Buckeyes:Join the Ohio State Sports Insider text group with Bill Rabinowitz, Joey Kaufman Adam Jardy

Bates-Diop’s efforts to both raise funds for AEDs and provide CPR certification courses have been borne out of his family’s personal situation. When his brother collapsed back home in Illinois, Bates-Diop had just gotten home from practice at Ohio State. He was quickly put on a flight that evening and was at the hospital by the following morning.

Bates has made a full recovery, most recently graduating from Butler University and working for the men’s basketball program under coach Thad Matta – the coach who recruited Bates-Diop to Ohio State. Maddie Biehl, the trainer who saved Bates’ life, remained close to the family and had him in her wedding that took place a few weeks ago.

Bates-Diop’s entire family has participated in the efforts to raise awareness. While in San Antonio, Bates-Diop has worked with Living For Zachary, a charity founded in honor of Zachary Schrah, a 16-year-old high school football player in Texas who died after collapsing during a 2009 practice. Should he win the award, the $25,000 prize would go to the charity.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) on the sideline during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Moody Center on Saturday, April 8, 2023 in Austin.

The former Buckeye has been able to donate 12 AEDs and facilitate four CPR classes that have certified more than 175 individuals. He was the NBA's Community Assist Award Winner in February.

In February, his brother was invited to Washington D.C. to meet with legislators about AED awareness and funding. He was there alongside Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who collapsed during a Monday Night Football game in January after suffering sudden cardiac arrest.

Bates-Diop said the event brought back some difficult memories.

Keita Bates-DiopLife lessons learned for Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop

“You could watch step-by-step what was happening,” he said. “It brought back obviously not-great memories when that happened to my brother. Seeing him get carted off to the hospital, it was a very jarring thing to see but it was encouraging that the NFL is a massive league and they had all the things in place so it wasn’t like anyone was scrambling, not knowing what to do. They all knew what to do and how to do it.”

And the more awareness he’s able to raise, the more likely it becomes that such actions will become the norm.

“Just keep growing it,” Bates-Diop said of his future goals. “Increasing whatever number we’re at with the raised funds and the number of AEDs and certifying people in CPR. Just bigger and broader. That’s the most important thing.”

You can vote for Bates-Diop by clicking here.

Unrestricted free agent Keita Bates-Diop unsure of next move

On the court, Bates-Diop could find himself a new NBA home after having spent the last three seasons with the Spurs. An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, Bates-Diop is coming off both the most productive and most-used season in his five-year NBA career.

In 67 games including 42 starts, Bates-Diop averaged 9.7 points in 21.7 minutes per game. He shot a career-best 39.4% from 3-point range and averaged 3.7 rebounds and a career-best 1.5 assists per game as the Spurs went 22-60 and will have the first pick in this summer’s draft.

Keita Bates-Diop:Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop impressing Gregg Popovich, Spurs with steady growth

“I would say (my year was) more trusting the process of it all,” he said. “Some guys it hits immediately when it gets in. I believed in the ability that I have and that my time would come and when it did I’d be ready for it. I had to be open minded and trust the work you put in and good things will happen.”

Since the season’s end, Bates-Diop said he’s been settling into the daily offseason schedule of individual workouts and trying not to focus on his uncertain status. Teams can begin negotiating contracts with free agents on June 30 leading into the official start of free agency on July 6.

Ohio State’s C.J. Jackson, left, and Andrew Dakich, right, shown with Keita Bates-Diop in 2018, could end up as teammates again this summer with Big X in The Basketball Tournament.

“It’s so far away still,” he said. “I’ll not go crazy but become unfocused or it’ll cloud my mind if I’m constantly thinking about that. There’s nothing I can do about that today, tomorrow or even next week. When it gets closer to the time, I’ll narrow it down but as of now I know what I have to work on to get better. I know I need to focus on workouts.”

A return to San Antonio is still an option, and Bates-Diop said he’s appreciated his time with the organization.

“It’s meant everything, to be honest,” he said. “The growth I’ve made as a person, as a player, everything from Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) all the way down, it’s a top organization. They’ve been good for so long, and they do things the right way. It’s not knocking other places I’ve been, but I’ve learned so much from everybody there.

“I’m eternally grateful, if I would go back or not, for my growth from being there the last three years.”


 Get more Ohio State basketball news by listening to our podcasts