Emoni Bates, the world’s top basketball prospect, committed to Michigan State on Monday, and this would be a simple story if it happened in 1990 instead of 2020. It is not that simple. Bates loves MSU. He has bonded with the coaches there. He has expressed serious interest in attending college. And he might never go.
In the meantime, he has bold plans. Bates’s father, E.J., tells Sports Illustrated that Emoni is leaving Ypsilanti (Mich.) Lincoln High School to start his own prep school, Ypsilanti Prep Aim High. At least eight other prospects will join him there. The plan is for a national schedule, with games at pro and college arenas like Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, the Breslin Center in East Lansing and Eastern Michigan’s Convocation Center. E.J. Bates, who coaches Emoni in the Bates Fundamentals, will be Ypsilanti Prep Aim High’s head coach.
Bates, who just finished his sophomore year at Lincoln, will reclassify and graduate in 2021, a year ahead of schedule.
And then … he could attend Michigan State. He could join the NBA’s G League, as other elite prospects did this year. He could also go overseas.
“I want all the options to be available when that time arises so he can decide,” E.J. tells SI.
The goal would be for Bates to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, but that is uncertain now. The NBA currently requires prospects to be one year out of high school and turn 19 during the calendar year of the draft. Bates turns 19 in January 2023. The NBA would have to amend its rule for him to be eligible for the 2022 draft.
Bates's decision may depend partly on the ongoing name, image and likeness saga with the NCAA. Consider the range of outcomes. It is possible that Bates will show up in East Lansing with a $100 million shoe contract. It is also possible that the NCAA’s NIL situation is unresolved—but nothing will stop him from signing that contract and playing in, say, Europe.
Asked if loose NIL restrictions make it more likely Emoni goes to college, E.J. said, “That’s a good question. I don’t have an answer to that right now on that one. There are many things that could be a factor.”
E.J. is adamant that if Emoni does attend college, it will be at Michigan State. Tom Izzo and his staff recruited Bates harder, better and longer than any other elite college program.
I watched Bates play for Ypsilanti High this winter. Bates is so far superior to almost everybody he plays that the product didn’t even look like basketball. He either scored and was happy, got fouled and wasn’t happy, or missed. There was no flow to the game. It was like watching a world-class concert pianist play in a high school orchestra with kids who were just learning to play the violin.
The image of Bates playing four years at his hometown school was charming, but it became obvious this year that it was not practical. He is going to be an NBA All-Star, and everyone around him knows it. The Bateses have made it clear: They will control the process that gets him there.
“He’s ready for it, basketball-wise,” E.J. said. “It’s more of an intimate setting, a more controlled environment. Importantly for me, it’s the progression of him continuing to get better with like-minded guys trying to accomplish the same goal. It became too hazardous … ‘Who is going to try to tick him off tonight to get him out of character? Who is going to throw a ball at his head?’ It’s time to move forward and just move on.”
Ypsi Prep Aim High will feature a loaded roster filled with prospects in the top 100 of their high school classes. E.J. said he expects his roster to include Dillon Hunter of Georgia; Shawn Phillips of Ohio; JaVaughn Hannah, Orlando Lovejoy, Jaden Akins, Genesis Kemp and John McCrear of Michigan.
“Everything is finalized,” E.J. said. “We are just waiting on the world to open back up so we can go ahead and play a national schedule.”
Uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus played into the Bates’s plans as well. If the state of Michigan cancels high school sports but other states let them go on, Ypsi Prep Aim High can still play games.
The complete schedule is not finalized, but E.J. Bates has already lined up games against prep powers Oak Hill (Nov. 13) and Sierra Canyon (tentatively Nov. 21), IMG academy (Feb. 8), Montverde Academy (Feb. 11), LaLumiere School (Feb. 25), along with visits to the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, the City of Palms Classic in Florida, the Flying to the Hoop Invitational in Ohio and the Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts.
By the end, Bates will be a high school graduate and presumably even better-known nationally.
And then he could go to East Lansing … or overseas .. or to the G League … or just work out on his own, as he awaits his expected call as the No. 1 pick in the 2022 - or 2023 NBA draft.