The story of Emoni Bates used to be an incredibly positive one with a perpetually upward trajectory. He was the most well-known recruit in the nation. He was the cover boy of Sports Illustrated. He was the superstar staying home to play for a Hall of Fame head coach. He was revered as a prep wunderkind in the mold of Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.
Four years later his college career has never taken off, let alone has the look of future NBA icon. He’s played for multiple high schools, had a complicated recruitment, and transferred out of a power program into the MAC. And now he’s been arrested on two felony weapons charges.
Sunday night he was pulled over after he rolled through a stop sign, and police found a firearm. He was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering ID marks on the firearm. His attorney said to “reserve judgement” because Bates was merely borrowing a friend’s car and has never had legal troubles.
That would be best-case scenario, Bates would be able to claim ignorance on the gun in the vehicle, and have nothing to do with changing the weapon’s identification. But it is yet another reminder the supposed fairytale arc of Bates’ career has hit so many pockets of turbulence.
After winning a Michigan state title as a freshman for Ypsilanti Lincoln and becoming the most famous high school player in the nation, it was one pothole after another. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic. He then transferred to Ypsi Prep, a fly-by-night operation (“diploma mill”) created by his dad. The worries that his dad was becoming a hurdle to his son’s success started to build, and many thought his family was crassly trying to profit off Emoni’s ability.
He was feted by every major program in the country, and eventually committed to Michigan State. But things started to go sideways. Bates reclassified, and then de-committed from the Spartans, leaving high school after just three years. Many believed he was rushing into college basketball before he was ready to get closer to a payday for his family. Observers became concerned the focus on doing what was best for Emoni started to unravel. He decided to join Memphis, but his time there was rocky. When on the floor the team struggled, and many wondered if Coach Penny Hardaway was caught playing an athlete who didn’t fit well with the team.
Bates eventually left the team with a “back injury,” which skeptics felt was a bailout because his play was underwhelming and the team seemed better off without him. He left the team in late-January as the program was inundated by criticism for underperformance. But without him the Tigers surged, making a run to the NCAA tourney. He returned for March, where he played a total of only 15 minutes over two games in the tournament. It almost seemed like a favor to even get him on the floor.
After the saga at Memphis Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan, becoming the first 5-star recruit ever to play in the MAC. But before he even got to play back home, he’s caught in the middle of a double-felony arrest. Everyone hopes Bates can find a way to resurrect his career and find success at EMU and beyond. But considering where this story started, and where it is now, banking on a happy ending seems like a risky bet.