There is still time for a happy ending to the Emoni Bates story. The talent that once made him one of the most promising 15-year-old basketball players in recent memory is still in his possession. He has three years of eligibility left in college basketball, and after this next season, he’ll finally be old enough to enter NBA Draft.
It’s important to remember that time is on his side when discussing Bates’ remarkable fall from grace in the basketball world, if only because the alternative is too sad to contemplate. In a few short years, Bates has gone from the “next Kevin Durant” to a mid-size winger whose future in the sport is currently very uncertain.
The final and most disturbing chapter of Bates’ career path occurred earlier this week when he was arrested on a gun charge in Michigan. Bates was accused of carrying a concealed weapon and “altering identification tags” on a firearm. His attorney said Bates was driving a borrowed car, and pleaded not guilty on his behalf. “Reserve judgment on this”, His attorney, Steve Haney, told ESPN. “Another way to the story. He borrowed someone’s car, he was stopped and a gun was put in the car.”
Bates left the Memphis Tigers after a new cross-star season earlier this year. He was called up by Michigan, Louisville, and a few big boys in the sport, but chose instead to return to Eastern Michigan, which is in his hometown of Ypsilanti. As for the prospect of getting a Bates-caliber to enroll in a MAC school that ranked outside KenPom’s top 300 last season—and one that hasn’t made an NCAA Championship since 1998—is astounding and disheartening. This wasn’t supposed to be the way your pre-enlistment years would go.
Bates is a cautionary tale for both parents guiding their children through potential stardom, and the media tending to crown the “next big thing” before taking the title.
It is said that Bates He averaged 40 points per game as a seventh graderThen he didn’t play his year in eighth grade to train instead in high school. As a freshman, he led Lincoln Hay to the state championship. The following year, he became the first sophomore to win the Gatorade Boys’ National Player of the Year award, but the pandemic halted his playoff career. Things started to get weird before his freshman year: Bates left Lincoln for a budding prep school founded by his father, Elgin. His father also founded a core team, Bates Fundamentals, at Nike’s EYBL Arena.
Instead of competing in a more structured environment playing with other great players and getting proper training, Bates was the center of everything his teams did. There was less accountability and instructions on choosing shots, defending, and playing winning brand basketball. These teams’ only mission was to boost Emoni Bates’ superstar power, and it was sure enough to deter him in the long run.
Meanwhile, the media has put the weight of the world on his shoulders. Bates became famous on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 15 years old along with the phrase “Born For This”. They wrote in the piece that Stephen Curry often looks like 6’9. ESPN wrote, “It was hard not to compare him to young Kevin Durant” at the time Explore it at the 2018 USA Mini Basketball Camp. Competitors said it was “Probably the best prospect regardless of class.”
I’m not letting myself off the hook here either. In Fall 2018, the NBA’s Best High School Prospects ranked. That list included some good calls – Scotty Barnes, Evan Mobley, Anthony Edwards and Galen Green finished fifth to second on the list – but my best player was Bates. I bought the hype way too early like everyone else. I freak out about it, and I’ve resisted doing similar stories even with a few “hits” on that list.
When he decided to “reclassify” before last season—essentially skipping his senior year in high school—he committed to the Memphis Tigers of Penny Hardaway, but joined so late that he never experienced the regular pre-season drills that benefited the rest of the team. The youngest college basketball player was 17 years old. Hardaway said that Bates would be his primary guard, but it immediately turned out that he had outgrown the role. Bates eventually fell down with a mysterious back injury and returned home to Michigan. Memphis has finally reached its potential without him.
Bates was never set up for success – neither by his family, nor by the media, nor by Memphis. The beginning of his career in Eastern Michigan did not seem to be any different.
There is still plenty of time for Bates to revive his career and reach the NBA. He could still be selected for the 2023 NBA Draft. As for the probability of Bates’ caliber, it was only supposed to be a matter when, not if. For now, this sounds like one of the saddest stories youth basketball has ever produced.