EAST LANSING – I sat with a good friend in the high rising bleachers of the Breslin Center. Watching, maybe without saying, basketball.
This time, it wasn’t Cassius Winston weaving through a Big Ten opponent’s defense or Xavier Tillman spinning baseline on the block. Instead, it was a 14-year old kid. Yeah, 14, spinning to his left, then back right for a hook shot that dropped. He had 31 points and 14 boards in this state semifinal matchup.
Emoni Bates committed to Michigan State on Monday, almost out of the blue, as I flipped on ESPN around 1:30 p.m. to hear the announcement. He’s the biggest recruit in MSU history, the Jabari Parker (or Vernon Carey) that MSU missed out on.
“They’ve been showing love to me since I was in the seventh grade. They’ve recruited me hard since then. They showed that their love is genuine and they’ve been there for a long time. I’m big on loyalty and they showed me all the loyalty, so I’ve got to show the love back,” Bates said on ESPN following the announcement.
That day at the Breslin, Bates was showing what he was made of on the very same hardwood that he may very well grace during the 2022-23 season. Mind you, this was also on the biggest stage in MHSAA boy’s high school basketball.
The Breslin Center was packed, all eyes fixated a kid who would eventually grace the cover of Sports Illustrated at a younger age then King James himself.
Like everyone else in attendance, my attention was immediately drawn to the young phenom. Bates was the No. 1 recruit in the ESPN rankings before he was old enough not to have a curfew. I watched him rebound, block shots and shimmy into a clean 3-point attempt that, like water, dropped.
He torched the first team from Livingston County to play on the Breslin floor in the state semifinals in decades; Ypsilanti Lincoln knew they had Howell before the game was even over. Behind Bates, Lincoln would go on to knock off favored Detroit U-D Jesuit at the buzzer 64-62 in the Division 1 MHSAA Championship. Bates —in the biggest game of his young life—answered the bell with 23 points.
He handles, shoots, rebounds and blocks shots. Whatever he’s asked, you can bet the house he does it to perfection. I saw it then and I see it now. Teams will play through him, just like clubs do with Kevin Durant and LeBron James. He is the first player to win Gatorade National Player of the Year as a sophomore; he can reclassify or go to the G-League. But for now, there is this: Bates’ plan is to play for Tom Izzo.
The NCAA cares about money; Bates can make them a lot of that. But the Ypsilanti native will arrive on campus just as name, image and likeness take hold in the NCAA. He’s big-time, and now, he can cash in on that.
Playing for Michigan State is probably an obvious answer here. However, Bates only verbally committed. The enticing idea of playing for cash in the G-League could be enough to sway the No. 1 recruit in the nation away from East Lansing.
But why not choose college? He can reclassify, which I think he will, and play a season earlier for MSU in the 2021-22 season. Especially after the decision to leave Ypsilanti Lincoln for a new-Bates family ran prep school: Ypsilanti Prep Aim High.
The G-League? Some other major prospects have done the same. There is a multi-hundred-thousand-dollar contract waiting for him. He would attract eyes to a level of basketball that struggles to get any consistent viewership.
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 of 2023. The NBA would have to amend its rule before then for him to be eligible for the 2022 draft.
So, for Bates to be drafted in 2022, the NBA would have to amend the rule again that a player must be one year removed from High School and 19 years old.
As it stands, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft will be Bates’ to lose. But how he gets to that point, or if he decides to make a change and enter into the 2022 draft, remains to be seen.
What this means for the program
Izzo hasn’t had a recruit like this, one that will define another era of MSU basketball since Mateen Cleaves. Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges come close, but Bates is the type of recruit that takes you to another level – even for a program with eight final fours and an NCAA Championship.
It also shows commitment. Izzo recruited Bates harder than anyone in recent memory; the spirited fan base screaming his name when he was attending Spartan games at the Breslin gave the fans hope he would come.
MSU can use Bates’ commitment to procure even more talent – Pierre Brooks II is already prepped to join the team before Bates unless Bates joins in 2021-22 – then the pair would be freshmen together. But this commitment could pull some of the biggest recruits in the nation to East Lansing.
Why wouldn’t it? It’s the most prominent name the school has gotten since Magic Johnson, and Emoni could be that good.
But more than likely, if we want to be realistic, Bates should and likely will skip college. LeBron did it, KD should have and others will follow once the NBA’s new rule takes effect.
But again, Spartan fans at least have something to hold on to as the biggest news of the sport’s offseason hits home.