Back in February we analyzed the bizarre downturn of Emoni Bates. One of the most hyped prep stars in 20 years was a sore spot for Memphis, and would need another rehab assignment before entering the NBA Draft. The Tigers finished strong with a run to the American title game and a win in the NCAA Tournament. In the Round of 32, Memphis pushed top-seed Gonzaga the entire game, ultimately falling just 4 points short of a monumental upset.
This all took place after Bates had essentially left the team. The details have always been murky, but a “back injury” took him away from the team. No one likes to question the integrity of an injury, but the question loomed whether he was being removed from the team because it was going so poorly.
Bates scored in single digits in half of his first 16 games, with murmurs of unhappiness with his role in the offense lurking. Bates left for nearly two months before returning without much impact. In two tournament games he played 15 total minutes and scored 8 points. Hardly the stuff of a high school phenom and possible lottery pick.
Unsurprisingly, Bates entered the transfer portal and none of the traditional blue bloods (UNC, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas) were on his finalists list. Instead, Michigan, Louisville, Seton Hall, Arkansas, DePaul and Eastern Michigan are his favorites.
The problem is the specter of Bates’ dad hasn’t been lifted off the situation. Whichever school lands him will inevitably inherit the same… ahem, curious situation the Tigers did.
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated¬†explained it like this: ‚Äú(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.‚Äù
CBS Sports college hoops analyst and Memphis sports talk host Gary Parrish told me on The D.A. Show on CBS Sports Radio:
‚ÄúYou know, parenting is hard. I say that as a father. And so, you know, we don‚Äôt 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‚Äôve seen in a long time. Then they built a prep school team around him,‚Äù Parrish says. ‚ÄúThey 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.”
Has any of those concerns been alleviated after a year in college basketball? Bates didn’t play well, and didn’t seem to fit with his teammates. He strangely left the team with a surprising injury, and the team succeeded without him. Timing wise he made it back for only the most publicized games (the tourney). Against the best competition in the NCAA Tournament, he played sparingly.
Maybe he’s been humbled after last year. Maybe his family realizes the mistakes that were made and are hoping to put him in a healthy coaching environment where he can catch up on lost time. Or maybe they’re still star-gazing, steering him to the place with the least resistance, and the platform for the stardom that has never come.