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College Basketball Should Not Forget About Emoni Bates

Emoni Bates had a turbulent freshman year, but now that he’s playing off the national radar, he’s putting up big numbers.

It’s been a wild ride for Emoni Bates.

It wasn’t long ago that he was a consensus top-five high schooler, drawing comparisons to LeBron James before he ever set foot on a college campus. Today, he’s playing at Eastern Michigan, off the national radar and off of NBA Mock Draft boards.

For the uninitiated, here’s a rundown of what’s happened in between. Over the past few years, Emoni Bates:

  • Committed to Michigan State after his sophomore season in high school.
  • Transferred to Ypsi Prep Academy, a prep school that his father created, for his junior season.
  • Reclassified after his junior season, allowing him to go to college immediately and forgo his senior year.
  • De-committed from Michigan State to follow his friend Jalen Duren to Memphis.
  • Averaged 16 points through his first three games at Memphis, shooting 50% from 3-point range.
  • Quickly saw his production drop as the team began to lose games.
  • Missed 12 games with a mysterious back injury, leaving the program entirely. Memphis won 12 out of 13 in that stretch.
  • Transferred to Eastern Michigan.
  • Was suspended from the team after an arrest on gun charges in September.
  • Was reinstated in October after the charges were dropped.

Got all that?

For over a year now, this has been an undeniably sad story about a once-promising prospect who was failed by his family, the media, and himself. It’s the kind of cautionary tale that we can’t seem to get enough of — the kid who once seemed to have it all, crashing back down to Earth in a way that is so sad you can’t help but watch every move unfold.

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But how about everything that’s happened since?

You’d be forgiven for not following Bates since the season started. He’s playing for an Eastern Michigan team that is 4-14 overall, 1-4 in the MAC, and that has little hope of playing in the postseason.

Yet, here’s a look at his numbers:

20.0 PPG | 5.9 RPG | 35% 3PT | 42% FG | 76% FT

Those shooting percentages aren’t going to blow anyone away, but when you put them in the context of Bates being the Eagles’ primary option and the first name on every opponent’s scouting report, it’s more than respectable. Especially when you remember that Bates is still just 18 years old.

Don’t knock the competition either — Bates scored 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting in his season debut against Michigan. He can play with the big boys.

And not everyone has forgotten about Bates.

There’s a long way to go here and Bates still isn’t appearing on 2023 mock draft boards, but he doesn’t have to. There’s no law that says the former high school phenom needs to enter the NBA before he hits 20. He could take another year at Eastern Michigan, and if he does, head coach Stan Heath could do him a service by scheduling more high-profile games. It’d benefit Bates and, undoubtedly, the team once it gets to MAC play.

We’re also in the transfer portal era and it’s conceivable that Bates could get a waiver to play immediately at a bigger school next year. He’s already used his one-time transfer, so to avoid sitting out, there would have to be some behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Still, it’s possible.

There’s plenty going on in the college basketball world right now that takes a bigger part of the spotlight than whatever Bates is doing at Eastern Michigan. From the good, like Kansas State coming out of nowhere to be a top-10 team, to the bad, like the Darius Miles situation at Alabama.

Since his arrest, Bates hasn’t done a ton off the court to put himself in headlines, either. The Roc Nation client has been quiet on social media, not announcing any NIL deals over the past few months. And even though he plays at a mid-major, he’s almost certainly had the chance. Bates has half a million followers across social channels and a NIL valuation of $648,000, according to On3, which ranks seventh in all of men’s college basketball.

But having the opportunity to earn big money right now doesn’t mean that you have to — or that it’s even the smartest choice. Maybe Bates thinks the best option for him right now is to focus on his game, which can ultimately still earn him millions down the road. We’ll see if he can make good on that.

I just hope we don’t forget about Bates entirely. There have been two recent examples of elite talent playing at mid-major programs, and both cases went completely awry. Makur Maker sustained an injury two games into his career at Howard and never played for the Bison again, and Patrick Baldwin Jr. was underwhelming in an injury-plagued season at Milwaukee. Bates has stayed healthy so far, and I’d love to see him get the recognition he deserves (the team winning some more games wouldn’t exactly hurt the cause).

We in the media want to tell Emoni Bates’ story, but if we’re going to do that, then let’s tell the whole story. One that he’s still writing.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.