There is no debate that Emoni Bates’ much-anticipated college career has been wildly underwhelming. The prep star with an SI cover story at just 15-years old is now just a bystander as Memphis has turned around its season without him. Bates has a supposed back issue that has kept him out of the lineup (or given him a reason to leave the lineup, depending on who you ask), and the Tigers have found their groove.
Bates was a surefire collegiate star, and the presumed “next” in a line of high school phenoms sure to dazzle the world like Kareem and Michael and LeBron. Instead, he’s been a never-ending soap opera, and it looks like he’ll never achieve the success that was projected upon him as a sophomore in high school.
Watching the dealer turn over the deck of cards, it’s not hard to see a pattern. The people around him, namely his father, allowed the circus tent to topple over on his son. Originally the Michigan star was committed to Michigan State. Then he de-committed and reclassified, had a diploma mill built around him, chose Memphis, and it went sideways.
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated explained it like this two days ago: “(Emoni) was a prodigy rushed ahead by reclassification, painfully thin and painfully young. His father Elgin had coached him on a pop-up prep school team called Ypsi Prep, affiliated with Aim High Academy. The whole thing was created as a vehicle to showcase Bates, a ridiculous premise that has become accepted as a common outgrowth of modern youth basketball.”
No matter if Emoni finishes the season with Memphis or doesn’t play another minute, he’s still too young to enter the NBA Draft in June. When a mock draft projected him at #20 in 2023, one commenter suggested Emoni doesn’t have the fundamentals and should have stayed with Michigan State. His dad responded in the comments section: “That’s opinion my man. Fundamentals with Emoni c’mon or are you just talking? You must be joking. Gabe Brown and Malique aren’t even able to play to their potential and they are (junior) and seniors. Is it the players jobs to put themselves in position to be successful or is it up to the people who get paid 7 figure salaries?”
We can start with the potshot at Tom Izzo. Ten Big Ten regular season titles, 8 Final Fours and a national championship. Denzel Valentine, Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges were lottery picks in the last 5 years. Suggesting MSU wasn’t a good place for Emoni’s success is patently absurd. If he’s suggesting Emoni’s fundamentals could only improve with proper coaching, then I’m not sure how that’s a validation of choosing Memphis.
CBS Sports college hoops analyst and Memphis sports talk host Gary Parrish has seen the Tigers rollercoaster season up close. He described Emoni’s poor season this way on my show, The D.A. Show on CBS Sports Radio:
“I think there’s a lot of different factors. You know, parenting is hard. I say that as a father. And so, you know, we don’t always make the best decisions, myself included. But I say that to say, that I think his father has probably done him a disservice, you know, in the development phase of his career. At 15 years old Emoni Bates looked like the best 15-year old in the world and one of the best 15-year olds we’ve seen in a long time.”
“Then they built a prep school team around him,” Parrish says. “They built a grassroots team around him, instead of going and playing with other great players and getting great coaching. They just built things to make Emoni the centerpiece of it. So he spent you know the past few years, not playing with comparable talent, not getting legitimate coaching. The pandemic you know, ripped away a season of grassroots from him, that probably is a factor as well, and he never really put on weight. So he’s re-listed and then they tried to fast track the development.”
“He got to Memphis’ campus very, very late so he didn’t get the normal summer workouts and the normal preseason workout. And it all led to a place where Penny Hardaway I think because of the way he recruited him, felt forced to play him and make him the center of everything. And it became clear very early in the season that Emoni just wasn’t ready for that.”
So how did this health issue begin? Parrish says it was when Penny knew he couldn’t win games with Bates playing a central role. Bates then “sort of out of nowhere developed a ‘back problem.’ I use quotation marks around that, that forced him according to his father, to leave the team go home to Michigan.”
Emoni is back with the Tigers now, but everything is broken. The aura of future star has been punctured. Egos have been deflated. Emoni may transfer to a second college next year, play in the G League, or go overseas. That straight path to stardom has a rockslide in front of it. Once upon a time The Fizz wrote about how Emoni’s commitment to Memphis was a win for college basketball in general. But it certainly doesn’t seem that way now.