Walking out of the visiting Rantoul Township High School locker room last Friday night, Keita Bates-Diop acted like a normal teenager.
Thumbs working frantically on the screen of his cell phone.
With an Ohio State stocking hat firmly planted on his head, the Normal University High School junior forward had just delivered what has become the norm for him this winter.
Bates-Diop, who choose Ohio State on Nov. 18 ahead of other Big Ten schools like Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, among others, scored 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds and made four steals in the Pioneers' 73-49 Corn Belt Conference win against Rantoul.
He did so in a little more than 20 minutes on the floor.
He picked up his second foul three minutes into the second quarter, prompting U-High head coach Bob Fitzgerald to sit his standout the rest of the first half.
Bates-Diop was on the bench and stayed there with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but it was because of how he helped U-High turn a one-point game early in the second quarter into a blowout by the time the fourth quarter arrived.
"The thing about Keita is he's a quiet player," Fitzgerald said. "He's going to put up 20, and you're not going to know about it because he's not a ball hog and he's not stingy. He works within the offense. We won, and he scored a lot, so I'd give him a pretty good grade."
It's clear to see why Bates-Diop garnered the type of interest he did this past summer when he rocketed up the rankings of several recruiting services.
He still is a lithe forward, at 6 feet, 8 inches and 190 pounds.
But the smooth way he plays, along with an improved jump shot that looks more natural than it did last year, and an ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor are clear indications of why he was coveted by many high-major Division I programs.
By the time his senior season approaches, it wouldn't be a surprise if he's listed as a five-star recruit (he's a four-star currently) or to find him playing in the McDonald's All-American game. He is that good.
Plus, like Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs mentioned, he's a standup kid, even if Illinois fans might disagree since he didn't pick his home state university.
"All along through the recruiting process, the thing that impressed people the most was his demeanor," Fitzgerald said. "He's handled it real well. He knows he's going to get pressure, and he's going to face teams' best defenders in hostile environments, but he's shown he's mentally tough enough to handle that."
Last Friday's game in Rantoul was the first time Bates-Diop had played this close to Champaign-Urbana since picking Ohio State.
The Rantoul student section chanted "ILL-INI" towards him at various points in the game while also mocking his decision to attend Ohio State.
Bates-Diop has heard it before.
And he'll hear it again before he departs Normal U-High at the end of the 2013-14 season.
"I try not to pay attention to it, but I get it pretty much with every big game and every big crowd," Bates-Diop said. "They all chant about how Ohio State is no good and they cheer for Illinois a lot, but I'm used to it."
Getting criticism from Illinois fans in Central Illinois has become second nature for the talented junior.
"There's some online hate," Bates-Diop said. "I don't even pay attention to it. I don't know those people."
Normal U-High takes a 12-4 record into its home game on Friday night against Prairie Central High School, including a perfect 7-0 mark in the Corn Belt.
The Pioneers, last year's Class 2A state runner-up, will have to make a postseason run this year in 3A, but they're playing a schedule that should prepare them.
Of the four losses U-High has on the year, they haven't come against slouches (LeBron James's alma mater St. Vincent-St. Mary High School out of Akron, Ohio and in-state foes Peoria Notre Dame High School, Normal Community High School and Chicago Morgan Park High School. Morgan Park is the top-ranked 3A school in the state and has a showdown with Chicago Simeon High School and Illinois signees Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate tonight.)
The Pioneers will get another solid test on Saturday, Jan. 26, when Proviso East High School and SMU commit Sterling Brown travel to Normal.
"I don't think you'll find a school of 600 kids playing the schedule we play, and that's OK," Fitzgerald said. "We've always wanted to try to play the best. That's just something you've got to do. I don't know if they'd play us if we didn't have Keita, but I'd still want to play them. You play high school athletics to put kids in those types of situations to challenge them. Now we have a chance."
A chance for other schools to get in on Bates-Diop and change his mind doesn't appear likely.
He said he's solidly committed to the Buckeyes, and is glad he committed when he did.
"I was comfortable and I was ready to (commit)," Bates-Diop said. "I didn't want to lead any schools on. I didn't want to disrespect them in any way, so I wanted to make decision and let the other schools plan on finding other players."