The Billikens have not exactly had a smooth ride this season. At the start of practices, their star point guard Kwamain Mitchell broke his foot, which almost certainly made things more difficult for new head coach Jim Crews. Then, in early December, the man that had put this team together and built it into an Atlantic 10 favorite, Rick Majerus, passed away.
But since the death of Majerus, the Billikens have turned their season around. They haven’t lost since, winning all eight games they’ve played. That includes a 60-46 win over then-No. 20 New Mexico that wasn’t even that close. All of a sudden, the team that started out the year 3-3 and looked a long way from some of the powerhouses at the top of the A-10 is round into form. And while they have Mitchell back in the mix, he’s still a ways from being “Kwamain Mitchell”; through three games, he’s averaging just 7.3 points, shooting 25.0% from the floor and 9.1% from three and averaging a career-high 3.0 turnovers.
What happens when he finally gets healthy? If you take anything out of the win over the Lobos on New Year’s Eve, it’s that the A-10 needs to be forewarned.
Seven Teams Deserving a Shoutout
Gonzaga: We’ve written plenty on the Zags over the last few days, but it is worth noting here that this group not only went into Gallagher-Iba and knocked off a good Oklahoma State team, they did the same to a Santa Clara team that was leading Duke midway through the second half in Cameron. And it’s only now that Kevin Pangos is starting to find his perimeter stroke. If this team ever figures out how to defend, watch out.
Minnesota: I think it may be time to officially designate the Gophers as ‘for real’. I had my doubts heading into Big Ten play, as some of their big non-conference wins have gotten less and less impressive as the season has gone on. But with Trevor Mbakwe starting to look like pre-ACL Trevor Mbakwe and with the two Hollinses starting to play like all-Big Ten candidates, Tubby Smith has a team that will make quite a bit of noise in the Big Ten. Ask Michigan State, who watched the Gophers use a 22-4 Fatality (Finish him!) in their Big Ten opener.
Marquette: For all the question marks that we had about the Golden Eagles after a less-than-stellar non-conference season, Buzz Williams’ crew has jumped out to 2-0 in the Big East with a pair of nail-biting wins over UConn and Georgetown. Marquette got a game-tying, buzzer-beating three from Junior Cadougan to force over time — where they benefited from an official brain-fart — against the Huskies, and survived when Greg Whittington missed a free throw with 2.3 seconds left against the Hoyas.
Creighton: Not a bad start to league play for the Bluejays, as they knocked off Illinois State on the road on Wednesday and followed that up by beating Indiana State at home on Saturday. It looks like the MVC is going to once against be Creighton, Wichita State, and everybody else.
Weber State: Damian Lillard may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that Weber State is finished as a program. Thanks to a 2-0 week, the Wildcats are 11-3 on the season and 4-0 in Big Sky play.
Arizona State: It’s time to start paying attention to the Sun Devils. DePaul loss aside, this team is 13-2 on the season after defending their home court in the Pac-12’s first weekend with wins over Utah and Colorado.
“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”
The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.
“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”
King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.
“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”
Four-star forward Miller Kopp commits to Northwestern
“I built a really strong relationship with (coach) Chris Collins and I fell in love with the campus,” Kopp told Scout. “I knew it would be a nice campus and have that stuff, but I think me and him are wired the same way. II think that his personality fits mine and I think we complement each other. I’m definitely excited to be able to go to a program on the rise and be able to make some history.”
Kopp picked the Wildcats over offers from Georgetown, Butler, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. The Houston native is ranked in the top-100 of his class by most recruiting services.
He gives Collins and the Wildcats an exceedingly strong 2018 class, which already featured four-star guard Pete Nance of Ohio along with three-star recruits Jordan Lathon and Ryan Young. It represents a major leap forward for Northwestern. It would appear that the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance last March has brought momentum to the recruiting trail.
NEXT ONE? Hoops phenom at 13 has college offer, NBA height
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Emoni Bates walks out a front door of Clague Middle School with just inches to spare.
A wide smile tops his 6-foot-7, extra-lean frame. He’s holding a seventh-grade honor society certificate in his right hand. His braces gleam in the afternoon sun.
Meet the best 13-year-old basketball player in America, according to some recruiting services. One of his highlight reels on YouTube has been viewed about 1 million times.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Emoni insists in a voice just louder than a whisper, “because if I pay attention to it, it’s just going to get to my head.
“And I don’t want it to get to my head. I just want to play basketball.”
He’s got the pedigree.
Emoni’s father, E.J. Bates, has been around the game most of his life. He picked greens and baled hay as a kid in nearby Milan, Michigan, then developed into a smooth-shooting guard. But he didn’t take school seriously until it was too late. Instead of playing for a basketball power like Kansas and maybe even in the NBA, E.J. wound up going to Kentucky Wesleyan and settling for pro hoops in Switzerland.
E.J. is determined to make sure his son doesn’t make the same mistake. The academics are a sign of that. House rules bar Emoni from picking up a basketball until his homework is done.
Yet E.J. knows when kids are this good this early, distractions roll in like waves. Already, it seems, lots of people want a piece of Emoni. Prep, private and public high school coaches are lining up. Colleges have him on their radar. DePaul took it a step further, offering Emoni a scholarship in late August. Two other much-touted players in the Class of 2022 — Amari Bailey of Illinois and Skyy Clark of California — also have offers from DePaul.
E.J. knows the shoe company bird dogs and other hustlers looking to buy favors are lurking, too. So he and wife Edith, who works for the Red Cross, keep their inner circle very tight.
“I’m his coach to keep the snakes away,” Bates says, sitting on one of Clague’s concrete benches. “We’re not for sale.”
The Bates family has agreed to provide The Associated Press with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the life of one of the most coveted basketball prospects in the country for at least the next five years. The periodic series will include video, photos, audio and text updates to track his progress.
Will Emoni stay near his current home to attend a public high school? Or will he take his next step at a private school like Detroit Country Day, like Michigan native Chris Webber?
Will he follow the footsteps of Marvin Bagley III and other five-star prospects, reclassifying to finish high school in three years? Bagley did to play college ball at Duke this coming season — and potentially to get a jump on a pro future.
Will E.J. and Emoni emulate the father-son team of LaVar and Lonzo Ball, grabbing headlines while hawking their own brand at every turn?
No one knows.
E.J. says all options are on the table. But he won’t be loud, unlike LaVar Ball in the lead-up to his son Lonzo being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I don’t have to brag about what we’re doing,” E.J. says. “I let other people do all the talking about how good Emoni is because word of mouth is the best advertising there is.”
A POTENTIAL STAR IS BORN
Emoni James-Wayne Bates was born Jan. 28, 2004, at the University of Michigan hospital. He was on the light side — 6 pounds, 7 ounces — and a little long at 21 inches. Just over a year later, Emoni slept with his head cradled in his left arm and his right wrapped around a black and red basketball. A cherished photo was made.
“He would always sleep with the ball,” his father recalls, holding a framed picture in his Ypsilanti, Michigan, home. “If the ball wasn’t around, he would cry about the ball. Even to this day, he has a mini-ball he keeps with him, which is crazy to me.”
There were more hints. During a second visit to the doctor, E.J., who is 6-foot-4, and Edith, 5-9, asked how tall their son might grow.
“He was off the charts,” E.J. laughs, “so they couldn’t tell us.”
Emoni has shot up 7 inches in the last two years. He’s tall enough right now to play shooting guard at any level. He handles the ball like a point guard and launches 3-pointers like a savvy veteran. He can create his own shot like a wing or drive the lane and dish off to a teammate like another rail-thin former prodigy, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant.
But adding weight and muscle is an ongoing challenge. He weighs just 155 pounds — not heavy or strong enough to play a dominating inside game that would complement his fluid perimeter skills.
“We try to stuff him full of food at night and hope it sticks,” E.J. sighs.
The Adidas Invitational in Fishers, Indiana, attracts some of the Midwest’s top seventh-grade AAU teams. Inside Best Choice Fieldhouse, talk centers on whether the Bates Fundamentals squad starring Emoni and coached by E.J. can live up to the hype.
“They’ve been hearing a lot about him,” says Bernetta Kelly, watching her son’s Peoria Area Elite team take its shot.
Bates Fundamentals wins 95-44 and Kelly understands why. She approaches Emoni and asks for a photo with her son and his team.
“I’ve seen the best players from Pittsburgh to Vegas the last four years, and he’s been the best in his class,” Peoria coach Zach Martin says. “I told the guys, ‘There are not many times you will be able to say you played an NBA player, but you just did.'”
After another lopsided victory in the two-day tournament won easily by Bates Fundamentals, Emoni walks off the court. A younger competitor darts out of his team’s pregame layup line to slap his hand. Moments later, the excitement follows Emoni out the door.
“Hey, that’s him,” a young boy entering the facility says to teammates.
How does a 10-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana, know who Bates is?
“YouTube,” he says.
The highlight reel posted last summer had nearly 1 million views before Emoni walked into the doors at Clague for the first time as an eighth-grader. Several other videos have racked up 500,000-plus views in less than one year.
By the spring of 2018, the suspense about where he plans to attend high school may be its own mini-drama. Then a few years later: Which college?
E.J. and Edith hardly need reminding that’s still a long way off. As good as the recruiting services have become at projecting stars, it’s easy to forget the object of all that attention is still just 13. At times, the recruiting experts simply miss.
“It’s always a crap shoot,” E.J. says. “You don’t know what life will deal you. You never know what can happen with injuries, the loss of motivation or pressure getting to be too much.”
Yet fans of two college basketball powers with the inside track can already start thinking about the fall of 2021, when Bates can officially sign a scholarship offer. In quiet moments, Emoni sometimes does, too.
Asked about his favorite programs, the soft-spoken kid doesn’t hesitate to name the early front-runners.
STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — The men’s basketball team at Pacific has been punished by the NCAA for academic and recruiting violations under former coach Ron Verlin.
The NCAA said Wednesday that Verlin failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he violated academic misconduct and recruiting rules to get prospects eligible. He also failed to monitor his coaches and violated NCAA ethics rules when he encouraged others to give false information during the investigation.
The baseball program was also cited because former coach Ed Sprague impermissibly provided an athletic training student with a $16,000 scholarship to help with the housing costs of two baseball student-athletes, including her brother.
Penalties for the school include two years of probation, recruiting and scholarship reductions, a $5,000 fine and a vacation of all games in which ineligible athletes participated.
Memphis lands commitment from 2018 center Connor Vanover
Memphis picked up its first commitment in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night as unique center prospect Connor Vanover announced his decision on Twitter.
At 7-foot-2, Vanover brings elite size to the interior for the Tigers and he’s also skilled enough that he was a 43 percent three-point shooter during his stint playing with Pro Skills in the Nike EYBL this spring. Although Vanover needs to add strength and athleticism to adapt to the college level, he simply has size that you can’t teach. Pair that size with an intriguing perimeter jumper and it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Tubby Smith is able to develop Vanover the next few years.
A three-star prospect according to Rivals, Vanover averaged 9.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during the spring. Originally from Arkansas, Vanover is spending his senior season of high school ball at prep school powerhouse Findlay Prep.