In the summer of 2010, LeBron James made The Decision, which forever changed basketball’s hierarchy, giving the players power.
Ten years later, Emoni Bates has done the same for Michigan high school basketball with his commitment to stay home and plans to change the game.
Bates, the top national recruit in the rising high school junior class, committed Monday to Michigan State, a national powerhouse but also his home team.
Coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans were reportedly taken by surprise by the announcement, along with the rest of the basketball world.
And in truth, Bates’ MSU pledge might ultimately be a mere footnote to his larger story.
It’s Michigan State for Emoni Bates, with a big ‘if’
“I’m not sure what the future may hold,” Bates said live on ESPN’s SportsCenter, in one of the more lukewarm commitment videos, “but as I do know right now, I will be committing to Michigan State University.”
"As I do know right now, I will be committing to Michigan State University."
Emoni Bates, ESPN's No. 1-ranked player in the class of 2022, announced on SportsCenter that he will be heading to East Lansing. pic.twitter.com/WdrG7R5tpc
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 29, 2020
The hats went on for the Bates family, a scene we’ve grown used to in major college sports.
On the one hand, it’s the biggest commitment of Izzo’s Hall of Fame career. At 6 foot 9 inches, Bates has the skill of a young KD with the drive of a young Kobe.
But Bate’s commitment with a caveat backs up what many suspect: There are serious questions whether he’ll ever wear the green and white.
If he plays in East Lansing, he would start in 2021. Or 2022. For one season. Or maybe two.
The road ahead could present detours beyond his control.
But if there’s a quicker way to the NBA, Bates has shown he’s willing to clear a path.
Bates already delivered Ypsilanti a title
Already a Detroit media fascination as a teenager at Clague Middle School in Ann Arbor, Bates didn’t follow the trend of most southeast Michigan stars.
Instead of playing AAU for The Family or REACH Legends like many of the region’s best, Emoni’s father, E.J. Bates, established Bates Fundamentals, literally an in-house program.
Emoni Bates’ original high school choice also broke convention for its banality. He didn’t choose a powerhouse private school, nor an Ann Arbor school familiar with athletic success.
Instead, Bates attended Lincoln High School, not even the most noteworthy public school with a Ypsilanti mailing address. His dad’s close friend, Jesse Davis, coached Bates there.
As a freshman, Bates led the Railsplitters to a strong, four-loss regular season.
An inspired Bates led Lincoln to a seven-game march through Michigan’s best, winning the Division I state championship when teammate Jalen Fisher hit a buzzer-beater at MSU’s Breslin Center.
Bates pledged afterward to win three more.
Sophomore year a bit of a wild ride for Bates
After playing against Bronny James and meeting LeBron James on the summer AAU circuit, the hype machine was in full effect for Bates’ sophomore year.
Then, a rite of passage from days gone by came along. Just like a high school-aged LeBron did in 2002, Bates posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated in November.
𝗕𝗼𝗿𝗻 𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗧𝗵𝗶𝘀
Emoni Bates (@BatesEmoni), a star out of Ypsilanti Lincoln, added another milestone in his early career: a Sports Illustrated cover.
— USA TODAY HSS (@usatodayhss) October 30, 2019
Lincoln lost its season opener against River Rouge, though; an uneven start serving as almost a warning.
There were too many blowouts, too many hard fouls by kids trying to make a name for themselves, and not enough room for Bates to grow his game.
Frustration was boiling for Bates, whose famous chip on his shoulder seemed contrived against the lesser competition.
Bates was also dealing with the shocking death of his basketball idol Kobe Bryant in January and wore his No. 24 for a 42-point effort in tribute.
He later scored 63 in a double-OT win and seemed ready for another run.
Then came a force even Bates couldn’t power through. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the Michigan high school basketball season as the Railsplitters readied for the district final.
Ypsi Prep Academy born against the grain
There won’t be four Michigan High School Athletic Association state titles for Bates at Lincoln. That was out of his hands.
But Emoni and the Bates family are taking control of his high school career in a bold way.
The MHSAA has strict guidelines for its teams. They are not allowed to enter national tournaments against the top prep schools in the country.
So, just like in AAU, Bates is breaking down the door with his brand.
Bates and his family announced Emoni would join a new school for his junior year: Their school.
Ypsi Prep Academy will partner with Aim High International, a nonprofit academy in Fostoria, Ohio, with training locations in Michigan.
E.J. Bates will coach the team, which already has commitments from some of Michigan’s best players and others from Georgia and Ohio.
The team reportedly has games scheduled with Florida powerhouses Montverde and IMG Academy. Tournaments are booked for Las Vegas, Florida, Ohio and Massachusetts.
Will Emoni Bates ever play at Michigan State?
I made a short documentary about Bates recently with a friend of mine, so I get asked often about what the future will hold for Bates.
The texts came in full force Monday: What are the odds he plays at Michigan State? When will he enter the NBA Draft?
These are tough questions, and the fact is, I don’t think Emoni or E.J. even know.
A lot will depend on how year one for Ypsi Prep goes. Will the virus allow for something close to a normal year? Will there be growing pains with new teammates in a completely new situation?
Bates can choose to reclassify and go to MSU for the 2021-22 season. E.J. has said his son will be able to graduate then if he chooses.
But even after one year at MSU, Bates wouldn’t be 19 in 2022. Currently, that’s a requirement for would-be prospects in their draft year, as pointed out by Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated.
The NBA has proposed changes to its one-and-done rule. A jump from high school to the pros is possible for Bates in 2022.
The NCAA also has its own set of variables, including the “name, image and likeness” rules. Bates could have an earning incentive to stay in school.
Professional leagues overseas could be an option.
Take LaMelo Ball as a reference point. A strong candidate for this year’s top NBA Draft pick, Ball spent a year in Lithuania and another in Australia.
NBA future a safe bet for Emoni Bates
Bates, who was named the National Gatorade High School Player of the Year in April, is as much of a surefire bet for NBA stardom as a 16-year-old can be.
He’s committed to a Michigan State program that consistently finds ways to get to the Final Four.
The Spartans should be strong next season while they wait for Bates. FanDuel Sportsbook gives MSU an 18-1 chance to win the 2021 NCAA tournament.
Izzo has fought long for his second national championship. A talent like Bates should help bring that dream closer to reality.
But while King James took his talents to South Beach a decade ago, Bates has chosen to stay in Ypsilanti for now, taking on the basketball world with his city still across his chest.
Michigan high school basketball has been changed forever. Bates is just getting started.