Class of 2014 plans change with Bates-Diop's decision
Bob Fitzgerald had three short, yet telling words when asked Monday if Keita Bates-Diop's recruitment would peter out now that the highly-regarded junior forward Keita Bates-Diop verbally committed to Ohio State on Sunday.
"I hope so," Bates-Diop's head coach at Normal University (Ill.) High School said.
Bates-Diop's commitment to Thad Matta and the Buckeyes let out a collective groan among Illinois fans on Sunday when word spread of his decision.
Bates-Diop, a 6-foot-8-inch forward who had an offer from Illinois — along with offers from Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and plenty of others — will now spend his next two seasons answering questions about how he'll fit in with the Buckeyes instead of where he'll go to college.
Now Illinois will most likely focus its recruiting attention in the Class of 2014 to in-state prospects like Champaign Centennial's Michael Finke, Springfield Lanphier's Larry Austin Jr., and others, with top recruits like Cliff Alexander from Chicago Curier and Jahlil Okafor from Chicago Whitney Young more pipe dreams than realistic.
With Bates-Diop's decision to forgo Illinois, it's another blow to Illinois in hopes of landing one of the premier recruits in Illinois. But we'll see how first-year head coach John Groce and his staff handle what direction the Class of 2014 goes now.
Players get recruited at an earlier age it seems like each year, so it's not a complete shock Bates-Diop decided to give a verbal right before the start of his junior season.
"He had been recruited since the end of his freshman year, and after a while, it wears on you," Fitzgerald said. "I think the biggest thing was he felt comfortable with his choice of Ohio State so he decided not to drag it out any longer."
All the typical keywords when it comes to a recruiting choosing a school — it's the right fit in terms of playing style, the relationship built with the coaching staff, the academic part and other items — seemed to factor into Bates-Diop's decision to choose Ohio State.
While the calls will come that Groce isn't much different than Bruce Weber as a recruiter, isn't it better to know at this point that Bates-Diop is off Illinois' radar rather than spend the next year putting forth effort during the next year only to have him spurn Illinois at the end? The argument could be made for and against that point.
Either way, from a perception standpoint, not reeling in a player of Bates-Diop's caliber that's 45 minutes away from Champaign-Urbana probably has Illinois fans miffed, especially since Fitzgerald said Bates-Diop has improved "a lot" since his sophomore season that garnered interest from most of the Big Ten before his breakthrough summer with the Illinois Wolves.
"As a sophomore on a senior-dominated team last year, he took a backseat approach to things and let them lead," Fitzgerald said. "This year we expect him to be more assertive on the floor, a role I think he is growing more comfortable with and better at every day."