NORMAL — Cheikh Anta Diop was a Senegalese scientist and anthropologist who researched ancient civilization and pre-colonial African culture. Richard Bates studied his work as a young man and has several of Diop’s books.
“He impacted me a great deal,” said Bates, an attorney at Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance.
When Richard and Wilma Bates welcomed a son into the world on Jan. 23, 1996, they added Diop to his last name. For a first name, they chose Keita. “It is West African and means worshiper,” Bates said.
Thus was born Keita Bates-Diop, a child with a unique name and, now, at 16 years old, a unique ability to make basketball seem simple, natural.
Listed at 6-foot-7 (he confesses to being 6-6 without shoes), Bates-Diop is a University High School sophomore with scholarship offers from Purdue, Northwestern and DePaul. Likely, it is just the beginning for a player who a year ago was a spindly, little-known 6-5 freshman reserve.
“Over the past year it’s gotten real crazy with all the different things that have been happening,” Bates-Diop said. “I’m trying to keep a level head.”
His 13.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game have helped the balanced Pioneers to a 15-3 record and No. 4 ranking in Class 2A. Division I recruiters drool over his long arms and athleticism, natural gifts attributable in part to heredity.
Six-seven Richard Bates played at Creighton from 1979-83, the final two years with Willis Reed as head coach. While he says his recruitment was “nothing like” what his son is experiencing, bloodlines factor in.
Beyond that, Bates-Diop has an appreciation for what he must invest in the game, largely because of his father.
“It’s the work ethic,” he said of dad’s biggest influence. “His work ethic wasn’t as good as mine, so he wanted to really focus on my work ethic. He wants me to work even harder.”
When last season ended, Bates-Diop poured himself into basketball. He worked on his game nearly every day after school, at U High or a gym somewhere. He sought to get stronger and performed footwork and shooting drills.
He also made the Lisle-based Illinois Wolves AAU team, playing with and against top-level players. It is a program with high expectations he said “forced us to work hard on every play … offense and especially defense.”
“That was a great opportunity for him,” U High coach Bob Fitzgerald said. “They do it the right way. It’s added to what maybe we can provide for him.
“Granted, he grew and started to physically gain weight and mature. But it (his success/attention) is as much a product of the amount of time and effort he’s put into it as anything.”
Fitzgerald receives phone calls regularly and letters every day from Division I schools. Bates-Diop said he typically does the talking to recruiters during contact periods, but that his parents “talk to me about it (the process).”
“Behind the scenes they help me a lot,” he said.
The attention has come about a year and a half after Richard Bates had a heart-to-heart with his son.
“I point blank asked him, ‘What do you want to accomplish?’ ” Richard Bates said. “He said he wanted to play at a high Division I program.
“I said, ‘This is what you have to do to get there. There aren’t any shortcuts.’ The Wolves organization reinforced that.”
Bates-Diop plans to keep his college options open, saying it likely will be “a very long time” before he reaches a decision.
He continues to work on his strength and “consistency in all areas of the game … rebounding, shooting, passing.” Each was on display Friday when Bates-Diop had 28 points and 12 rebounds in a key 71-49 win over Rantoul.
“He understands school and family still come first,” Richard Bates said. “You have to maintain a disciplined approach to his development. You have to juggle it. I told him, ‘You’re in a special club, and the club has membership responsibilities.’ ”
One day, Bates-Diop may be advising another in his family. His brother, Kai, an 11-year-old Metcalf School fifth-grader, has shown potential.
“He’ll probably be better than me,” he said.
That, too, would be unique.