Ever since 2022’s No. 1 player Emoni Bates committed to Michigan State last June the general consensus among myself and most observers was that the 6-foot-8 small forward would never play a minute for Tom Izzo. Still, the commitment from a local prodigy was big news and great publicity for the program. While it isn’t a surprise that Bates won’t be playing for the Spartans, his decision to decommit and, at least in theory, open up his recruitment on Friday did come as a bit of a surprise.
As for Izzo and his program, the track record of success is too established to worry about them having any kind of lasting or impactful issues because of this. They’ve got a strong 2021 class with five-star Max Christie and four-stars Pierre Brooks and Jaden Akins and the early decommit of Bates leaves them plenty of time to plan for 2022.
Is there any chance that Bates plays college basketball? Should teams recruit him? Is he still the best player in the country? What could be next?
WILL BATES PLAY IN COLLEGE?
I hate to say this, but from the moment I first saw Bates play at USA Basketball during October of his freshman year I have been operating under the assumption that he will never play a minute of college basketball. Back then it was looking like NBA Draft rules would change and allow players from the class of 2022 to go straight to the draft out of high school. But the initial success of the G League’s Ignite team and general disinterest by all parties in redoing the collective bargaining agreement have changed that.
Even though it isn’t looking like Bates can go straight to the draft after graduating in 2022, it would still be a major surprise for him to play college ball. There is an argument to be made that Bates could develop his personal brand by playing a year in college and turning heads, but he just doesn’t seem to be on that path.
Much more unlikely is the theory that Bates could enroll as a member of the class of 2021. For one, we don’t even know if he’s in position to do that academically. Two, all enrolling early would mean for Bates is that he has to play at least two years in college because he won’t be eligible for the draft until 2023. Were Bates born in December of 2003 instead of January of 2004, this move could make a lot of sense. But he wasn’t so a reclassification doesn’t do much to help him get to potential millions any faster.
Given that his father Elgin Bates opened up a prep school built around Emoni, another year there makes sense. YPSI Academy can command appearance fees to play in events and the 17-year-old can continue to work on his game.
SHOULD COLLEGES RECRUIT BATES?
Should colleges recruit Bates?
Absolutely. What is there to lose?
Chris Beard and Texas immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer after Bates decommitted from Michigan State. Odds are he’ll never play for Texas (or any college program) but from the second I tweeted out that I’d confirmed an offer from the Longhorns to Bates, there was lots of publicity to go around for Texas.
“Texas offered Emoni Bates, can you imagine him in Austin.” “Know who else went to Texas, Kevin Durant. Bates could be next.” Social media and message board posts like that were rampant and basically amounted to lots of free publicity for the new Longhorn regime.
Bates seems to be willing to play along, too. He posted about offers from George Washington and Tennessee since.
As the saying goes, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and that applies when it comes to recruiting Bates. Offering Bates a scholarship, spending some time calling him and his family, maybe checking out a game or two in July won’t take much effort or cost much time, but if he decides to go to college and somehow connects with you, then the payoff could be huge.
IS BATES STILL THE BEST PLAYER IN THE COUNTRY?
Let’s lay it all on the line here. Based on his play as a junior and early in the grassroots season, Bates hasn’t lived up to the hype and expectations. My colleague Travis Branham went in-depth on all that the day before Bates’ decommitment. However, it is very important to point out that the accolades, expectations and projections made about Bates’ talent were made by people like myself and other media members, so we have to keep that in mind when discussing a kid who is still only a junior in high school.
There are fair critiques to be made about Bates game. He does settle for too many deep shots. He does need to get much stronger and he does need to show that he can not only trust teammates but make them better. At the same time, he still has the ability to make extremely difficult shots (and from deep), he can really create off the dribble and there just aren’t many with his size and overall skill package that can do what he does. He’s still different and he’s still an elite prospect.
For the moment, I’d still rate Bates as the top prospect in the class and I think it is way too early to be writing him off or going off the deep end about him being overrated.
Some struggles will be good for him to battle through, and some tempering of expectations could be good for everybody involved.
I was in Fort Wayne last weekend and Bates’ summer team Bates Fundamentals was scheduled to play. During the week I had wondered if he would play after some pretty harsh criticism of his play the weekend before. As soon as the news of his decommitment hit, I knew that there was no chance I’d be seeing him.
At first, I was disappointed and part of me thought he was dodging attention by taking the weekend off. After some reflection, I think my initial reaction was gone. Some time away to clear his head, let the media side of things cool down and get back to work should do Bates a lot of good. In retrospect, there was nothing to be gained by playing in a grassroots event and creating even more of a media circus than there already is.
That being said, I would like to see Bates back on the court again soon. I would like to see how he responds to all of this. Whether he goes to college or goes professional, Bates is still the most interesting figure in all of high school basketball.
The most immediate thing for Bates to do next would be to remind everybody about just how good he can be and then let the rest sort itself out over the next year.