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Introducing Emoni Bates: Meet the likely face of the next generation of preps-to-pros

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Any veteran of the Peach Jam knows that the event is a circus, one complete with packed gyms, fire codes and a cadre of extremely large security guards that are there to keep reporters and autograph-seekers from overwhelming the players and the standing room-only crowds from overtaking the court.

Typically, these crowds are at their biggest when the best soon-to-be seniors square off. When Harry Giles squared off with Ben Simmons at the 2014 Peach Jam, the doors for the gym were closed by halftime of the game before it. When Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins faced off two years before that, the crowd on the track above the courts stood five deep.

That’s normal.

What isn’t normal is for a 15U game taking place 16 hours before coaches are even allowed in the gym to become the main event, but that is precisely what happens Bronny James and his Strive For Greatness program roll into town. The gym is at capacity before Bronny’s shoes are even tied. By the time the game tips off, there is a line of a hundred people waiting to get in, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the son of the best high school player anyone has ever seen.

It’s fitting, then, that after Bronny’s first game at the Peach Jam on a Wednesday afternoon, as the crowds there to see the most hyped high school basketball player ever follow him out the door, the best prospect since LeBron strolls into the gym, laces up his shoes and shows the suddenly-sparse crowd why he, Emoni Bates, is on track to be the face of the new preps-to-pros era.



The comparisons to Kevin Durant are as unfair as they are inevitable.

There is a certain caliber of basketball player that simply cannot fairly be put in the same sentence a 15-year old. Kevin Durant, when his achilles are intact, may very well be the best basketball player on the planet today. At the very least, he is the best scorer in the game, a wispy, 7-foot sniper with the skills of a shooting guard.

“He’s very young and has a lot of maturing to do physically, but in my 20 years in this business he was as good as anybody I have ever seen as a freshman,” said Rivals recruiting analyst Eric Bossi of Emoni Bates. “His skill level, athleticism and ability to create a shot are way beyond his years and he plays with a fire and alpha mentality you don’t usually see in a 15 year old.”

Does that remind you of anyone?

I won’t be the one to put their names in the same sentence.

Or even the same paragraph.

But Bates, who is now 6-foot-9 after growing seven inches since sixth grade, has that same slender build, that same ability to knife through defenses, that same ease with which he buries 25-foot threes off the bounce. Perhaps most importantly, on the floor, the soft-spoken Bates is as an uber-competitive asshole in all of the best ways.

“That’s what you call the alter-ego,” his father, Elgin, said with a laugh.

Elgin’s presence is important to this story. He is a former Kentucky Wesleyan guard that spent time playing professionally overseas. He’s also a skills trainer. Bates Fundamentals is not only the name of his basketball training business in Ypsilanti, Michigan, but it is also the name of the grassroots team that he runs on Nike’s EYBL circuit. There’s a reason for that. Elgin wants to keep Emoni close. He knows what being a high school basketball phenom can do to a psyche of a child in a man’s body. He might be the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, but as of today, he cannot even get a driver’s license.

“For him, it’s about being a kid,” Elgin said.

Emoni might have won a state title in Michigan as a freshman, but he still gets punished when he doesn’t do his homework.

“Don’t let this go to his head or bother him due to the fact that it can get overwhelming and crazy,” Elgin said. “Sometimes it’s trying when you try to get out of the gym and everyone is grabbing his arm, and as a parent, I have to notice that. I have to pay attention to his body language. If he’s uncomfortable, if he doesn’t want to be in a certain situation, we get him up out of there.

“The main thing for me is being a parent and protecting my child.”

At the same time, Elgin wants his son to be aware. If everything goes according to plan, Emoni is looking at earning nine figures between his NBA salary and endorsement money. If, as expected, the NBA does away with the age limit for 2022, that money will start rolling in just three years from now. Emoni is not going to be under his wing forever, and he needs to know that the people he comes across are not always going to have his best interest at heart.

Four years ago, I wrote a story on Renardo Sidney. In 2005, Sidney was Emoni Bates, a 6-foot-8 14 year old from Jackson, Mississippi, that tore up Sonny Vaccaro’s famed ABCD All-American camp. He left home and moved to Los Angeles. He and his family took money. He let the hype get to his head. “I could honestly say I probably was ‘Hollywood,'” Sidney told me at the time. “I just thought I made it. I stopped working. I thought that my talent would get me to the NBA.”

That, of course, is not how it played out.

Sidney was barely a top 20 prospect when he graduated high school. Neither USC nor UCLA would accept his commitment because of the potential eligibility issues he faced. He eventually enrolled at Mississippi State, but he wasn’t cleared to play for a year and a half. When I spoke with him, he was on his third comeback attempt, having dropped 35 pounds to get down to 305 in order to get signed by a minor league team in Canada.

The key to avoiding that, Elgin believes, is to give his son a support system, a structure to his life, a humility to understand that nothing is guaranteed until a signed contract says ‘guaranteed.’

To date, it’s been successful.

And as long as Emoni continues to stay the course, his name could very well be the first name that Adam Silver calls on draft night in 2022.

“That,” Emoni says, “is the goal.”

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.