Cheikh Anta Diop was a 20th-century scholar of African culture born in the Diourbel Region of French Senegal. He devoted his life to studying history, politics and anthropology. Diop was both famous and controversial for depicting a continuity among the people of Africa that transcends the intricacies of modern geopolitics.
Richard Bates, as a young man, discovered Diop’s work and immediately became impassioned by its essence. After playing basketball at Creighton University, Bates received a law degree that he uses as an attorney in Bloomington, Ill.
Still, he’s reminded of Diop most every day.
“He impacted me a great deal,” Bates told Randy Kindred at The Pantagraph. So when Richard and his wife, Wilma, had their first child in 1996, they honored the Senegalese visionary by adding his surname to their son’s birth certificate: Keita Bates-Diop — a hyphenated moniker that he only shares with his younger brother, Kai.
Keita (kay-tuh) translates to “worshiper,” Bates (Baits) for his family and Diop (Jop) in honor of the man that his father admires.
It’s a title that has been Americanized throughout Keita’s life; the ending is pronounced as it appears — de-op — rather than how it’s supposed to be said, Jop.
The Bates’ reside in Normal, Ill., where Keita grew into the academic symbolism of his eloquent name.
As a child, according to The Athletic, he was tasked each Saturday with reading a story and explaining its significance to both of his parents. Long before standing out on the basketball court at nearby University High School, he was instilled a studious and reflective pursuit.
“That’s Keita,” his mother told Dana O’Neil. “He’s never been the loudest in the room or the first in the door. He’s very thoughtful. He assesses a situation and figures out what he needs to do.”
After four successful years at University High, Keita was the 22nd-ranked prospect of the 2014 class. He chose to play next at Ohio State, where he arrived as a freshman with D’Angelo Russell. During Keita’s first campaign, the 6-foot-9 forward came off the bench behind a group of upperclassmen.
As a sophomore, he was plugged into the Buckeyes’ starting unit — he averaged 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in more than 30 minutes per night. Then, his junior season, after just nine contests, Keita was grievously shut down to surgically repair a stress fracture in his ailing left leg.
While sidelined, he had little choice but to contemplate his time in Columbus.
“I had to shift my mentality,” Keita said introspectively. “I hadn’t accomplished a whole lot in my years [at OSU], and I didn’t want to leave with any regrets […] Mentality, that’s what was blocking me. I had a whole year to sit on it and think about it. I wanted to make sure I did everything I could have done.”
Still, a high-stakes injury wasn’t the only event that transformed his mindset during that year.
Two weeks after Keita’s procedure, his brother Kai collapsed at a high school basketball practice. His heart had suddenly stopped beating; after several minutes of administering CPR, an athletic trainer revived Kai with an automated external defibrillator (AED).
Over 300 miles away, Keita called his mom upon learning the horrifying news.
And despite inclement weather, he immediately arranged to fly home and be with his only sibling. While Kai has fully recovered, the incident ended his playing career. What his brother endured seems to have had a lasting effect on Keita’s perspective.
“What happened to Kai, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but it did open my mind,” Keita recalled, “I took a step back and realized how lucky I was.”
Through time away that was mauled by agony, Keita relied on a lifetime of learning to return with an altered appreciation for the game.
And his renovated state of mind — along with a mended leg — translated to newfound success on the court. His final season at OSU, Keita compiled 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds on average en route to earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors. More importantly, he led the overachieving Buckeyes to a 25-9 record and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
All the while, his stock as an NBA prospect continued to improve.
By the time the draft arrived in June, he was projected to be a late first-round pick. When asked about the months-long process that culminated in Keita being selected by the Wolves (round two, pick 48), he told to HoopsHype, “The biggest part was the interview process. You interview with as many teams as they assign you. A lot of the stuff wasn’t really basketball oriented. They asked about my personality and how I am off the court.”
In response, he highlighted what sets him apart: a fervent and proven passion for knowledge.
“I like reading. I enjoy watching basketball,” he remembered explaining. “They ask how much I really watch the games and take interest in it. I studied economics in college and graduated in four years. I was really good with numbers and graphs and I have been for most of my life. It caught my interest super early.”
Keita will embrace the same characteristics in his hunt for minutes as a second-round pick. He talks to his freshman roommate, Russell, at least once a week. The Brooklyn Nets point guard has given his former bunkmate guidance on navigating the NBA’s landscape.
@KBD_33 has a Kawhi Leonard type game. A great system will magnify it.
— D'Angelo Russell (@Dloading) May 18, 2018
“People say that everyone is more talented and skilled but what will separate the good from the great is mentality and work ethic,” Keita opined. “That’s definitely something D’Angelo Russell has told me. It’s what will make you stand out from first, second, third and fourth-tier players.”
A unique tribute to a famed philosopher, from an intellectual family that emphasizes individuality, Keita Bates-Diop fits his name like a glove.
“I want to be a good student, I want to be like a scholar, I don’t want to be just an athlete or anything like that,” he described for the Buckeye Talk Podcast, “that’s probably the biggest thing I took from [my name] is just knowing that no matter how well I do in athletics, there’s always the intelligence and academic side that I need to embrace.”