Emoni Bates was one of the top high school prospects in the country and was hailed as “the next Kevin Durant.”
Bates has fallen significantly in the past two years since he received those glowing accolades and projections. Perhaps his low point was last weekend, when he was arrested for gun possession after a traffic stop and suspended by his college team in East Michigan.
Bates was driving a borrowed car and the weapon, a firearm, was not his, his lawyer claimed at a hearing the day after the arrest. A court date has been set for October 6 and the situation will play out in the judicial system.
Bates could be found innocent and able to return to basketball at EMU or, if found guilty, he might not even put on a jersey or play a single game this coming college season. For anyone lucky enough to watch Bates play as a young prospect when he first got into the basketball scene, it’s hard to believe he ended up here at the age of 18.
He has been on a road of questionable decisions, on and off the basketball court, amid intense media attention. It could be argued that the hype contributed to Bates’ current state in basketball limbo.
In 2019, when Bates was 15, Sports Illustrated called him a “once-in-a-generation talent” and compared him to Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. As a sophomore, ESPN ranked him as the best high school prospect regardless of grade, comparing him to Kevin Durant. That same year, Yahoo Sports and Rivals.com had high praise for Bates after he became the youngest boys’ basketball player to win the Gatorade Player of the Year award. During his junior year, The Athletic did a long-form feature on Bates, declaring, “It’s not a question of whether Emoni will be a top pick in the NBA Draft, but when.”
That’s a lot of pressure for any basketball player, especially someone as young as Bates.
Even at the age of 14, Bates attracted attention with his tall stature as a six-foot high school freshman. He could score anywhere on the field, dropping 43 points on Bronny James with LeBron coaching on the sidelines. He had time to grow into his body and the sky seemed to be the limit for Bates. With his rising popularity, his father, Elgin (EJ) Bates, created a high school and AAU team just for his son (Ypsi Prep Academy and Nike’s Bates Fundamental). Bates and his teammates were flown across the country for competitions, and Bates himself needed security to get to and from the gym. This all happened before Bates turned 16.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bates played sports every day with his father in their backyard and rarely saw five-on-five competition for several months. When the high school season resumed six months later, Bates had shown little to no development. He forced shots and got stronger with stronger players. Ypsi Prep regularly lost games on national television (one of the most notable games was against future No. 2 NBA draft pick, Chet Holmgren). Still, he remained the top high school prospect in the junior class.
The summer before his senior year, Bates announced that he would be reclassifying for a year and joining Penny Hardaway’s squad in Memphis, along with fellow top player Jalen Duren.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Duren and Bates as they came in as two of the best recruits in the country. Hardaway had success landing top recruits like James Wiseman.
Bates started his college career averaging 16 points in the first three games. His playing time and consistency took a dip shortly after, and he temporarily left campus in late January due to flare-ups of back pain. His body language on the bench and towards Hardaway was not positive and Bates entered the transfer portal after the season.
“You could see a glimpse of his potential on the field, but because he was so young and playing at the university level, it was clear he needed another year of development,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “I was really looking forward to this season, especially a program where he should be ‘the man’ and show leadership.”
Bates waited until August 23 to announce his alliance with eastern Michigan. His other college or pro options were Louisville and the G League Ignite, but he chose the school in his hometown of Ypsilanti.
He missed summer practice with the team and was a late addition to the program.
“There are always pros and cons to staying closer to home,” a Power Five assistant coach told Yahoo Sports. “The pros, of course, are that you have your family around and they are there to support you. The cons are what we’re seeing now with this Emoni situation. People who shouldn’t be there and are a bad influence can help you.” in a position like this It’s really a For real sad situation and you hate to see a kid go through it.”
Bates is only 18. There is still time for him to fulfill his dream and make it to the NBA. Prior to his arrest, Bates was a projected first-round pick in the 2023 draft. Depending on how things play out in court, that could change and NBA teams are going to be watching this closely.
“When judging players for the NBA, it’s just as important how they behave on the field as it is off the field,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “There’s still time for him to learn from this and grow as a player, so I don’t think anyone will fold completely to Bates yet.”
This isn’t necessarily the end for Bates. Looking at last year’s draft class, Keegan Murray (Pick No. 4) was 22 years old, Jalen Williams (Pick No. 12) 21 and Ochai Agbaji (Pick No. 14) 22. So there’s still time to get out of this, but it’s now a steep climb for Bates, with his first test on October 6 in a courtroom.