Bates has fallen dramatically over the past two years since he earned those accolades and glowing projections. Perhaps his lowest point was last weekend, when he was arrested on a gun charge after a traffic stop and stopped from his college team in eastern Michigan.
Bates was driving a borrowed car and the weapon, a firearm, was not owned by him, his attorney claimed at a hearing the day after the arrest. A court date has been set for October 6 and the situation in the judicial system will begin.
Bates may be found innocent and able to return to EMU basketball or, if found guilty, may not wear a jersey or play a single game in the upcoming college season. For anyone lucky to see Bates play as a young prospect when he first arrived on the basketball scene, it’s hard to believe that’s where he ended up at the age of 18.
He was on a path of questionable decisions, on and off the basketball court, amid intense media glare. It could be argued that the hype was a contributor to Bates’ current state of the forgotten world of basketball.
In 2019, when Bates was 15 years old, 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 prospect in high school, regardless of class and compared him to Kevin Durant. That same year, both Yahoo Sports and Rivals.com garnered much praise for Bates after he became the youngest boys’ basketball player to win the Gatorade Player of the Year award. During his first year, The Athletic made a long advantage over Bates and stated, “It’s not about whether Emoni would be the top pick in the NBA draft, but when.”
This is a huge stress for any basketball player, especially someone as young as Bates.
Even at the age of 14, Bates raised heads with his tall frame as a 6-foot-9 student in high school. He could score from anywhere on the field and lost 43 points to Bronny James with LeBron training on the sidelines. He had time to grow in his body and the sky seemed to be the limit for Bates. With his popularity rising, 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 the games and Bates himself needed security to get to and from the gym. This was all happening before Bates turned 16.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bates would train with his father in their backyard every day and rarely see any five-on-five competition for months. When the high school season resumed six months later, Bates had shown little development. He’s been forced into shots and influenced by stronger players. Ypsi Prep has been regularly losing matches on national television (one of the most famous matches is against Chet Holmgren No. 2 in the NBA draft). However, he remained the best in high school in the junior class.
In the summer before his senior year, Bates announced that he would reclassify for a year and join Benny Hardaway’s team in Memphis, playing alongside his high school teammate, Galen Doreen.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Doreen and Bates when they came on as two of the best recruits in the country. Hardaway succeeded in reaching top recruiters such as James Wiseman.
Bates started his college career averaging 16 points in his first three games. Taking his time playing and steady diving soon after, he temporarily left campus in late January, citing back pain. His body language on the bench and towards Hardaway wasn’t positive and after the season, Bates went into the transfer window.
“You can see glimpses of his potential on the court, but being so young and playing at the college level, it was clear he still needed another year of development,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “I was really looking forward to this season, especially on a show where he has to be the ‘man’ and show leadership.”
Bates waited until August 23 to announce his commitment to eastern Michigan. His other college or professional choices included Louisville and G League Ignite, but he chose the school located in his hometown of Ypsilanti.
He missed summer training with the team and was a late addition to the program.
“There are always pros and cons to staying close to home,” a Power Five aide told Yahoo Sports. “Obviously the positives are that you have your family close by and they are there to support you. The disadvantages are what we see with this Emoni position now. People who shouldn’t be around and who have a bad influence can put you in a situation like this. It’s really, truly A sad situation and you would hate to see any child go through it.”
Bates is only 18 years old, and he still has plenty of time to fulfill his dream and achieve the NBA. Prior to his arrest, Bates was an expected first-round pick in the 2023 draft. Depending on how things go on court, that could change and the NBA teams will be watching this closely.
“When evaluating players in the NBA, the way they behave on the field is just as important as their behavior off the field,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “He still has plenty of time to learn from this and grow as a player, so I don’t think anyone is fully dealing with the Bates yet.”
This isn’t necessarily the end of Bates. Looking at last year’s class, Keegan Murray (choice #4) was 22, Jalen Williams (pick #12) was 21 and Ochai Agbaji (pick number 14) was 22. So there’s still time to get out of this, but now it’s a very steep climb for Bates, with his first Test coming October 6 in the courtroom.