BOISE – Keita Bates-Diop is playing this NCAA Tournament for the “Ohio State” on the front of his jersey, but largely for the “Bates-Diop” on the back of it. It sounds self-serving at first, but not when you hear the All-American’s reasoning.
Bates-Diop, a dominant Ohio State forward who fourth-seeded Gonzaga will probably have to lock down or limit if the Bulldogs want a return to the Sweet Sixteen, has dedicated his redshirt junior season to his younger brother, who last year saw a promising basketball career come to an abrupt end due to a life-threatening heart issue.
In 2017, when Kai collapsed before a school practice at University High in Normal, Illinois, and doctors detected a serious heart problem, Keita was still recovering from surgery on his left leg and the stress fracture that limited his junior season to just nine games.
At the time of his accident, Kai was a high-profile prep recruit who’d been pursued by a handful of Big Ten schools. Even though a defibrillator saved his life, the heart condition effectively ended his competitive playing career.
Keita is now carrying out his only sibling’s legacy through his own career – and considering how well that career’s gone, younger brother Kai has to be filled to the brim with pride. The OSU forward is an All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year who’s scored 19.4 points per game this season and grabbed 8.8 rebounds.
Bates-Diop led the Buckeyes with 24 points and 12 rebounds in an opening-round NCAA win over South Dakota State for his 19th double-double of the 2017-18 season.
“I try to make him happy as best as I can,” Bates-Diop said Friday. “Obviously he can’t play, but to know that he’s happy, to know that I’m doing what I’m doing and being successful, I’m sure that brings him happiness and it brings me happiness too.”
Kai’s had to follow his brother’s NCAA Tournament run from afar. He and Keita’s mother, Wilma, are on a school retreat to Costa Rica and hunting for television sets airing the Big Dance in Central America might be as challenging as finding a Costa Rican soccer game at a sports pub in Normal, Illinois.
“I think they saw we won, but I’m not sure if they actually watched the game,” Keita said. “It’s hard, they’re in a different country so I think it’s a couple-hour time change and cell reception is spotty just because we don’t pay for the out of country charges.
When Keita and Kai aren’t obstructed by time zones and international data charges, the brothers communicate on a daily basis. Usually about everything other than basketball.
“We try to keep it away from basketball, actually,” Keita said.
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