But there was another destination—the most important one—that Bates had to get to before he could catch his breath.
The morning after Indiana’s season-ending loss to Saint Marys in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, Bates rode at 5 a.m. from Portland, Oregon, to Utah, and then back to Kansas City, Kansas.
And two days later, on March 20, Leilani Nicole Bates was born.
As soon as I saw her, Bates said. “It’s kind of like an inverted key.”
Bates’ first year as a Hoosier came with plenty of ups and downs. He made it to Bloomington as a five-star recruit on the border, but fired just 33.8 percent off the field and 29.8 percent of the 3. He struggled for playing time, losing a close family member in December, which teammate Tracee Jackson-Davis said season went off. Bates off course.
As Bates said, the only thing he could prepare for college basketball was college basketball. After going through a “storm” in his new season, Bates feels like a stronger basketball player, and his mental strength has improved as a result.
“These are things you can’t control,” said Jackson Davis. “It really screws up your mindset. I think he’s back. He’s got his head straight. He’s ready for action.”
After the birth of his daughter, whether Bates wakes up early in the morning or stays up late, he feels more focused on parenthood and basketball. And after this life-changing event, Bates has a new goal. He supports a family, hoping to give Leilani anything she can dream of. It also inculcates lessons from hard work, which he learned growing up.
“[My parents] “He did a great job,” Bates said. “But I want to outpace them.”
It’s been just over four months since Leilani’s birth, and so far, navigating his new life as a father and college athlete hasn’t been as scary as he had expected. It was so easy, Bates said, actually, because his only focus is on two places: basketball and being a dad. Bates’ daughter was at home with family members who were supportive and ready to help in any way they could.
He tries not to combine these two aspects of his life, but Bates begins to find parallels between basketball and fatherhood. Leilani is still young, but he ties her education to her family’s values with being a leader on the basketball court. One day, he hopes to share the court with her.
“I feel like she’ll eventually want to catch the ball because we’re going to be in the gym all the time,” Bates said. “That would be special.”
Go to follow
As his sophomore season approaches in Indiana, Bates’ renewed focus led to his first goal of the summer. Bates spent hours in the weight room with Indiana athletic performance director Cliff Marshall, and Bates kept body fat while adding 15 pounds of muscle. He now weighs 200 pounds and said stretching, yoga, and conditioning will prepare him for the upcoming season.
“I know going through the Big Ten, it was really physical,” Bates said. “You have to be able to shed a little bit of weight to be able to compete.”
The biggest difference between Bates and Hoosiers this summer was the high level of familiarity and chemistry throughout the menu. Last season, Bates, Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Miller Cope, Michael Dorr and Logan Duncombe were the new faces of Bloomington. It’s been a learning process all year long.
But ahead of the 2022-2023 campaign, Bates feels the team is on the same track with Woodson’s expectations, which made it easier to bring in the four freshmen. With a year of experience in the Big Ten, Bates has a better understanding of where to find his shots within the attacking tempo. And despite a 33.8 field goal percentage as a freshman, Bates still let her fly.
“I’m a basketball player and shooter,” Bates said. “I will shoot the ball with confidence and believe in my teammates.”
Bates’ characters team up with Johnson, five-star freshman Galen Hood-Chevino, Trey Galloway, Anthony Lill, and freshman CJ John to complete a backcourt turn in Indiana. Bates has always been confident in making his own shot, but he was prime with off-season priorities that were reducing turnover, improving decision-making and defending at a high level. He hopes that these improvements will translate into relieving pressure on Johnson by being able to handle the duties of a Guard Commander.
Bates had a recent chat with some of the Indiana alumni’s aides about NBA forward Andrew Wiggins. Drafted #1 overall in 2014 from Kansas, Wiggins has been heralded by many as the best player ever in the NBA. He averaged about 20 points per game during his first five seasons, but the Minnesota Timberwolves remained among the worst teams in the NBA.
Traded to the Golden State Warriors during the 2019-20 season, Wiggins claimed the All-Star title in 2022 en route to winning the NBA Finals. Wiggins’ 17.2 points per game was their lowest since the junior season, but his crucial role was highlighted when he figured out how to play winning basketball alongside Steve Curry, Clay Thompson and Draymond Green.
An Indiana Bates alumni assistant asked, “How do you get a slate like this to influence the winning team?” Many consider Indiana a top ten heading into 2022-2023, and Bates could see a huge jump in production as a sophomore. He still isn’t expected to star in the team with the return of top scorers Jackson-Davis, Johnson and Reese Thompson, but Wiggins’ model group helped Bates learn how he can influence winning basketball.
“Just do what I do, not get out of my way,” Bates said. “I can be good offensively and be good in defense, but I feel like one of my biggest skills is just having the energy and always ready to compete, just my competitive spirit.”
With his second season approaching as Hoosier approaches, Bates learned during a tumultuous freshman year that not everything would go as planned. He can’t write a perfect season for him or the team, but that’s okay. With newfound perspective and purpose, Year Two is about so much more.
“[Leilani] Bates said giving birth was something I didn’t know I needed. “It gave me a different kind of focus, a different kind of motivation, a different kind of motivation…and it came at the right time.”
Related stories about basketball in Indiana:
- Jimmy Kayser Jr. to announce the decision Sunday: Indiana, Maryland and Virginia are finalists for the 2023 class of shooting guard Jimmy Kaiser Jr., who will announce the college’s decision on Sunday. click here
- Liam McNeely to visit Indiana: Five-Star Recruit 2024 Liam McNeely will pay an official visit to the Indiana University campus from September 23-25. McNeeley began his high school career at John Paul II outside of Dallas, Texas, but will transfer to Monteverde Academy in his final two years. click here
- Galen Harrelson, Trent Sisley Visit Indiana: Mike Woodson and the Indiana basketball coaching staff hope to make an early impression on a pair of inductees in the state in 2025. Jalen Haralson of Fishers, Indiana visited the Indiana campus on Monday, and Trent Sisley of Heritage Hills High School in Bloomington on Tuesday. click here