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Best basketball prodigy since LeBron? Why Emoni Bates is such a big deal

Bates made big headlines Monday with unexpected college choice, but future questions still linger

Emoni Bates posts up with the ball during the 2019 Division 1 state championship boys basketball game at Michigan State University. Contributed photo
Emoni Bates posts up with the ball during the 2019 Division 1 state championship boys basketball game at Michigan State University. Contributed photo (Hockey Weekly Action Photos/MHSAA)

With one unexpected sentence, Emoni Bates set the basketball world and Twitter on fire Monday afternoon.

“I’m not sure what the future may hold, but I do know right now I will be committing to Michigan State University,” said Bates during an appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

After speaking those words, Bates, the nation’s consensus No. 1 high school basketball player in the Class of 2022, set off a national reaction of various emotions.

Shock was one such feeling, since elite high school recruits usually plan out when they will be committing to a college and announce a set day and time when they will do so.

There wasn’t any warning at all from Bates, who appeared on SportsCenter mainly for the purpose of announcing that he will be attending a newly formed prep school in his hometown of Ypslianti, Michigan.

Bates played his first two years of high school at Ypsilanti Lincoln High School.

Another feeling was elation, particularly for fans of Michigan State basketball, who were understandably jumping for joy over Bates choosing to play for their school/team.

Finally, there was curiosity, as his decision started a debate about his future that will last for months.

So who is Bates, why is he such a big deal, and why will his future be something basketball fans everywhere will watch over the next year or so?

Why Emoni Bates is a big deal

Many pundits have called Bates the best basketball prodigy to come out of high school since LeBron James.

He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan, but has the skills of an elite guard. He can handle the ball, make deep three-pointers as if they were layups and has a basketball IQ beyond his years.

He has already accomplished the following:

  • As a freshman, in 2019, he averaged 28.5 points and 10.2 rebounds a game and helped lead Lincoln, a school that had never advanced to the quarterfinal round of the state tournament, to its first-ever state title in the state’s largest division.
  • He was the first sophomore to ever be named Gatorade National Player of the Year, after averaging 32.3 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game.
  • He already has his own Wikipedia page and has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
  • An article on ESPN said Bates was the best high school player in the country, regardless of class.
  • During state tournament games in his freshman year, people were lined up for blocks around gyms to try and get a glance of Bates in action.

Why his college announcement caught so many off guard

It’s not necessarily that Bates didn’t tease far in advance that he was making a college choice Monday, although that in itself was surprising; it’s that he made a college choice PERIOD.

It’s been assumed by many that he wouldn’t play in college because he would go straight to the NBA, should the league abandon its rule in which players have to be one year removed from high school to be eligible for the NBA Draft.

Emoni Bates works out in Ypsilanti, Mich., Wednesday, July 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Emoni Bates works out in Ypsilanti, Mich., Wednesday, July 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Even if that rule is still in effect, he could still play in the G-League, a subsidiary league of the NBA, or go play in Europe until he is draft eligible.

Evidently, college is still in an option he’ll consider, though, and he made it known that Michigan State will be the place for him if he chooses that route.

Bates said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and his staff have recruited him since he was in seventh grade, and he has made numerous official visits to MSU games the past two years.

In May, he reportedly called MSU his “dream school,” according to the Spun.

Many elite programs didn’t even pursue Bates because they assumed he wouldn’t play in college.

What does the future hold?

We would say that is the million dollar question that needs to be answered in the next year or so, but it might be a question worth much more.

Bates could reclassify to the class of 2021 and try to graduate high school a year early, meaning he could enter college a year ahead of schedule. He could also stay in the class of 2022 and weigh his choices then.

If college athletes are allowed to make money off of their name, image and likeness by the time Bates gets to college, he could already have endorsement contracts in hand and still get to play at Michigan State without violating NCAA rules.

Bates could also play in Europe, the G-League and see when he can become eligible for the NBA Draft.

“I want all the options to be available when that time arises so he can decide,” said E.J. Bates, Emoni’s father, to Sports Illustrated.

MSU fans are cautiously optimistic that Bates chose the school, but also know there will be other options.

NBA scouts also know he’ll be in the league at some point -- but when?

Meanwhile, basketball fans everywhere are wondering what route a once-in-generation prodigy will choose.

As much as Bates set the Twitter world on fire Monday, we’re betting it’s nothing compared to what will happen when his steps after high school are decided.


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