Syracuse was never involved in the Emoni Bates recruitment. Bates had long been wooed by different power brokers in college hoops, and plenty had been scared off by the assumption he’d never play collegiately. As a Michigan product there were plenty of analysts who predicted if he did attend college, he’d decide on either Michigan or Michigan State. Sure enough, last summer Bates chose the Spartans.
He had become the rare high school phenom whose game transcended the normal recruitment cycles and instead grew into something larger than life. Sports Illustrated did a profile on him. He was labeled as the “next Kevin Durant.” People compared his hype to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Bates de-committed from the Spartans this spring, once again leading to speculation that he’d jump to the pros. International leagues were ready. He could reclassify and perhaps head to the G League. He could certainly play for Overtime Elite, a high school/pro hybrid team. Bates had options.
Which is why when he chose Memphis ten days ago, it was somewhat surprising. Bates helps create one of the greatest recruiting classes in college basketball history, joining Jalen Duren as the #1 and #2 ranked players in their class according to some services at Memphis. Perhaps Penny Hardaway is an incredible recruiter. Perhaps the NIL money (and other benefits) are extremely enticing with the Tigers. Perhaps after years of intense scrutiny Bates simply wanted to be a college kid.
No matter what the reason, it’s a win for Syracuse and the rest of college basketball. With the rise of salaried options for high school talent, there’s been a steady drumbeat of concern in college hoops. If players had options overseas to earn big money, and options here to earn good money, why would they ever choose college basketball? Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga played for G League Ignite last year. Both were drafted in the top 10 this summer. Add Isaiah Todd, who went with the first pick of the 2nd round, and three players from the same G League team were selected in the first 31 picks. None had to play college ball to reach their dream of playing in the pros.
For the Class of ’21, #3 prospect Jaden Hardy and #9 Scoota Henderson will head to the G League Ignite. So two of the top 10 kids in high school will play professionally. But that’s a far cry from the dystopia of the top 10-20 prep stars avoiding college. Bates is one of the most famous high school stars of the last 20 years, and certainly weighed the option of playing pro right away. But in the end, the allure of Memphis was too strong. Syracuse and the rest of the sport’s elite programs still have something top prospects want. And college basketball fans are the big winners.