On March 20, 2022, Indiana now-sophomore guard Tamar Bates’ life changed.
Three days after the Hoosiers’ season ended with a loss against Saint Mary’s College in the NCAA Tournament, Bates witnessed the birth of his daughter, Leilani. He was a freshman, just 19 years old with only a sprinkle of collegiate basketball experience under his belt. But still, he was a father.
“It was a situation that was unexpected,” Bates said. “We were really just trying to find our sound.”
Bates could’ve done a lot of things differently from that point moving forward. He could’ve left Indiana and turned his focus to parenthood. He could’ve stayed out of the gym and away from his teammates. He could’ve crumbled from the pressure of new obligations.
Instead, he matured.
“That's a big responsibility for a young kid at his age,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “This summer, he accepted what he was going through, and he started to grow up.”
Playing against Jackson State University 251 days later, Bates had a career-high 22 points off the bench, leading No. 11 Indiana to victory. After his best performance in a Hoosier uniform, Bates shared the celebration with none other than Leilani — the girl who changed his life for the better.
“We found that right sound, and we’re playing music now,” Bates said.
Bates’ gutsy outing as the primary piece of Indiana’s bench unit came at just the right time. A slow start with the Hoosiers and Tigers tied 9-9 at the under-16 media timeout warranted concerns, but Bates quickly put any worries to rest.
The sophomore had 12 points in 10 minutes at halftime — already just one shy of his previous career-high of 13. After the second unit went on a 27-6 run to create a comfortable Hoosier lead, Bates put the icing on the cake with a clutch 3-pointer to end the half.
He finished the game adding 10 more points in the second half on 72.7% shooting along with four assists, propelling the Hoosiers to an eventual 90-51 victory. Coming one day after Thanksgiving, it was a timely performance for Bates — the personification of gratitude.
“I’m really grateful that all my family could be here,” Bates said. “Last year was the first time I ever missed Thanksgiving, so the fact that we were able to spend it together was special.”
The career-best showing came as no surprise to Woodson, Bates’ teammates or the Hoosier faithful who had been following the sophomore’s progress in the offseason.
“He finally had a breakout game,” Woodson said.
Supporting that breakout was a handful of behind-the-scenes dedication and focus — Bates didn’t always have the heart and grit that he currently displays on a game-to-game basis. But his newly developed emotional maturity was a product of hard work on and off the court.
“This summer, he came in with a different attitude,” graduate guard Xavier Johnson — who had 16 points and four assists in the win — said. “He grew up a lot. He matured.”
Now, Bates has fully grown into his role, both as a sparkplug for the Hoosiers and a loving father to Leilani. And after turning potential hardships into character-defining blessings, every day is a small part of his season of Thanksgiving.