Less than a week ago, Emoni Bates sent social media into a frenzy when he posted, first via his Instagram story then later on his timeline, that he was indeed at Memphis for a visit.
Immediately, speculation ran rampant that Bates was leaning toward joining his friend and AAU teammate Jalen Duren at Memphis next season, subsequently giving Penny Hardaway his best chance to make his first NCAA Tournament appearance in his four-year tenure.
Wednesday evening, Bates proved that, sometimes, it’s smart to buy the rumor, committing to the Tigers over Oregon, Michigan State and the G League Ignite.
Earlier this month, Bates announced that he was reclassifying from 2022 to 2021.
Both Duren and Bates were named to the SI All-American team last season and ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in 2022 before reclassifying.
Hardaway and the Tigers were strong before Bates’ commitment, returning three starters from a team that won the NIT championship last season.
They added Duren, the most skilled/physically-imposing big man in high school basketball, with Landers Nolley II (13.1 ppg., 4.1 rpg.), DeAndre Williams (11.7 ppg., 5.8 rpg.), Lester Quinones (9.5 ppg., 5.8 rpg.) and Alex Lomax (6.0 ppg., 4.2 apg.), plus talented transfers Chandler Lawson and Earl Timberlake and Hardaway was already a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender.
The addition of Bates raises the stakes, and the expectations.
Even without logging a minute of college basketball experience, Bates and Duren will, arguably, be the best inside-outside duo in the game next season and a favorite to land in New Orleans for the Final Four.
Bates joined Duren’s team (Team Final) for half of the summer and never lost a game.
Even as the top two players in the class, with standing room only crowds at every game, both players were devoid of ego and competed like underrated prospects looking to make a name.
Back in May, Duren told SI that he and Bates had a mutual respect as players and got along great on and off the court, which made their chemistry strong.
“He’s a great player and I love what he brings to the table,” Duren said. “He’s just a great competitor. He wants to win at all costs and doesn’t care about anything but that. That’s me too. That’s why it works.”
Bates’ ability to create his own shot and stretch the defense with marksman-like accuracy from NBA range at his size (6-foot-9) changes the whole offensive scheme for the Tigers and opens the lane for Duren to operate against less double teams. Duren is an exceptional blend of power and skill, who dominates the glass and protects the rim masterfully.
Before Duren and Bates picked Memphis, the buzz around both were all pro, but with NIL serving up major paydays to top college athletes, the college route has become more than a formidable contender to land top high school prospects.
“I just feel like we have a group of guys that are all locked in on getting better every day and that’s gonna pay off,” Duren wrote in his SI blog last week.
Bates and Duren join Josh Minott, Johnathan Lawson, Sam Ayomide and John Camden to form the Tigers No. 1 recruiting haul for 2021.