Jon Lopez/Nike

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

Leave a comment

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.”

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

Screengrab via ESPN
Leave a comment

Wvery other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure:

Kansas-Kansas State fight: Nuance, context the key in Silvio De Sousa discussion

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
1 Comment

So I wanted to elaborate on a point that I made on twitter this morning because 280 characters just is not enough to be able to parse through the nuance of this situation.

If you missed it, the thread is here.

First and foremost, everyone involved in this needs to be punished. Silvio De Sousa needs to be suspended. Antonio Gordon needs to be suspended. James Love III needs to be suspended. David McCormack, and potentially Marcus Garrett, probably need to be suspended, although I’m not sure either of them actually through a punch. Point being, anyone else that threw a punch needs to be suspended.

Full stop.

I am not saying otherwise.

But I think that it is important to add some context to the conversation, and I also think that it is important to say this: This doesn’t make any of the young men involved in this fight bad people. Silvio De Sousa is not inherently a bad person because he picked up a stool, and the faux-trage of people calling for him to get booted out of school, arrested or even deported are, at best, completely over-reacting and, at worst, showing off a bit of their racial bias.

Before I get into this, one more thing: I am not condoning any of it. Fights like this should not happen.

But the reality of hyper-competitive athletics is that in emotionally charged situations, fights are going to happen. And if you’ve ever been in a fight like this, you know that things happen incredibly quickly. You’re not thinking, you’re reacting. You can’t call a 20 second time out to come up with a way to defend yourself when someone is throwing haymakers, you just do what you can in the moment.

So let’s talk about the moment, shall we?

De Sousa is the guy that set this entire thing in motion with the way that he reacted to DaJuan Gordon’s steal and layup attempt. The reason the Kansas State bench rushes over to the scene is because De Sousa is towering over one of their freshman teammates, and the reason the Kansas sideline runs over is because the Kansas State sideline does. What turned this incident into a full-fledged brawl was Antonio Gordon flying in and shoving De Sousa over the back of the basket stanchion. De Sousa reacts by throwing punches at two different Kansas State players when a third player — James Love III, in the black polo — comes flying in and squares up with him. They both throw a few punches at each other, knocking De Sousa back over the stanchion again as Kansas staffer Jeremy Case comes flying in to break them up.

Put yourself in De Sousa’s shoes here. In the span of 10 seconds, he’s fought three different Kansas State players, sees nothing but purple in front of him and just got knocked to the ground. Is he getting jumped? Does he have to fight them 1-on-3? That’s when he grabs the stool, to defend himself, and when he sees that no one is coming after him anymore, he drops it:

Context.

He should be suspended for 8-10 games.

He set this entire thing in motion.

But maybe, just maybe, tone down the rhetoric.

Kansas suspends Silvio De Sousa ‘indefinitely’ following brawl

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
2 Comments

Kansas head coach Bill Self announced that Silvio De Sousa has been suspended indefinitely following his role in the brawl that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

“I have suspended Silvio De Sousa indefinitely pending the final outcome of the review by KU and the Big 12 Conference,” Self said. “As I said last night, we are disappointed in his actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game.

Women’s Wednesday: A new column dedicated to the women of college basketball

Getty Images
1 Comment

Welcome to CBT’s first ever weekly women’s basketball column. I’m here to help provide you with some insight into the world of women’s college hoops.

Women’s sports are reaching new heights, especially in basketball. The WNBA announced a new collective bargaining agreement starting in the 2020 season that includes a 53 percent raise, maternity benefits, a base salary and performance-based bonuses. This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament will be broadcasted in its entirety on ESPN, with the semifinals and championship game premiering in primetime.

Female athletes are beginning to garner the attention they deserve. Sabrina Ionescu is drawing national attention for a historic senior season, as she has 22 career triple-doubles and became Oregon’s all-time leading basketball scorer in her career-high 37-point performance against Stanford last week. In the WNBA, women such as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and more are shattering gender stereotypes and proving that women can play basketball at a high level, just as men can.

While women’s sports have made a push into the public eye, there is still quite a way to go. It’s important to place an emphasis on the women who excel in their sport and give them the spotlight they deserve. Too many times women are only given credit through a masculine lens, whether that’s only getting attention after receiving praise from men, being compared to a male counterpart, or being a footnote in a male athlete’s story. Female athletes deserve to be their own story.

That’s what I’m hoping to do with this column over the rest of the season — give women a place to shine. I’d like to use this space to highlight some of the amazing women that play in the NCAA and hear from them about their experiences, the records they’re setting and their basketball journey. While I won’t even begin to make a dent in the breadth of talent available in women’s college basketball, I hope to use this column each week to take a deeper dive into some incredible women, as well as give you an idea of what’s happening around the country that week.

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

South Carolina sits atop the world of college hoops, earning 22 first-place votes from the AP panel to nab the No. 1 spot. The Gamecocks have an 18-1 record with wins over ranked opponents such as Maryland, Baylor, Kentucky and most recently Mississippi State.

Baylor — the reigning national champs —- sits in the No. 2 spot in the rankings after dethroning UConn and ending its dominant 98-game winning streak at home. The Lady Bears received six of the first-place votes from the AP committee.

The rest of the top five is filled out by UConn at No. 3, Oregon at No. 4 after beating then-No. 3 Stanford, and Louisville rounds it out at fifth, receiving the last two first-place votes.

In a monster performance against Stanford, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu had a career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. She has four triple-doubles on the season and has a chance to become the NCAA’s first player to eclipse 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists. As of Jan. 18, she has 2,265 points, 904 rebounds and 928 assists.

DePaul remains unbeaten in the Big East, with Chante Stonewall leading the team with 17.9 ppg while Kelly Campbell has 102 assists on the season, ranking No. 8 in the country.

Baylor’s 40-point victory over then-No. 17 West Virginia is their 45th consecutive Big 12 win.

Mississippi State’s JaMya Mingo-Young and Aliyah Matharu combined for 24 points and four steals off the bench in a close 79-81 loss to South Carolina on Monday.

Star freshman and No. 1 recruit Haley Jones suffered an apparent right knee injury and left Stanford’s Sunday win over Oregon State. She is scheduled to have an MRI but the team has given no further updates.

North Carolina State’s Elissa Cunane has 20+ points in four of her last six games and 10 double-doubles on the season, helping the Wolfpack to a dominant win over Florida State last week.

UCLA became the last undefeated team to fall with a double overtime loss to USC — who hadn’t yet won a Pac-12 matchup —  on Friday.

Northwestern made its debut this season in the Top-25, coming in at No. 22 — its first ranking since the 2015-2016 season.

No. 3 Oregon faces rival No. 7 Oregon State on Friday in a crucial Pac-12 matchup.

Stanford freshman Fran Belini threw down a one-handed dunk in pregame warmup before facing Oregon that you HAVE to see:

Kansas, Kansas State both taking blame for massive fight

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Sunflower Showdown took a wild turn on Tuesday night. And there’s not a clear indication of what’ll happen next.

No. 3 Kansas and Kansas State ended their bitter showdown with a wild melee in the disabled seating behind the Wildcats’ basket that included punches, shoving and at least one player threatening to swing a stool.

The Jayhawks were dribbling out the time on their 81-60 victory when Silvio De Sousa was stripped by DaJuan Gordon near mid-court. Gordon tried to go for a layup and De Sousa recovered to block his shot and send the freshman sprawling, then stood over Gordon and barked at him — triggering both benches to empty into what amounted to a rugby scrum.

At one point, De Sousa picked up a stool and held it over his head before Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard grabbed it from him from behind. The Jayhawks’ Marcus Garrett and David McCormick were also in the thick of the scrum along with the Wildcats’ James Love and David Sloan, who was the first player to come to Gordon’s defense.

It took both coaching staffs, the officials and Allen Fieldhouse security to separate the teams.

“Without knowing exactly everything that went down, it was obvious to me that we played a role in what transpired and there will be penalties for that,” said Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who was already shaking hands with Kansas State counterpart Bruce Weber when the chaos erupted. “I need to see the film to comment or have any definitive thoughts on exactly why or how it got started, because to be honest with you I don’t have any idea about that.”

This fight became a national event

The fight came three days after St. Francis and Sacred Heart were involved in a wild fracas following their game in Pennsylvania. But while that incident in the Northeast Conference went largely unnoticed, the pedigree of Kansas and the fact that both schools play in the Big 12 instantly turned their brawl into a national event.

Obviously it’s an embarrassment,” Self said. “It’s not something to be proud of. What happened showed zero signs of toughness. It’s a sign of immaturity and selfishness more so than toughness. If I was a fan watching, depending on your perspective, there would be nothing about that intriguing me to watch more.”

Then, adding to the bizarre finish, five players from each team were summoned back from the locker rooms by officials and one-tenth of a second was put on the clock. Kansas State shot technical free throws to booing from a few thousand fans, and the one make necessitated a change to the final box score.

The reason only those players returned? The rest of the players from each team — including those dressed in street clothes — were ejected because they had left the bench while the game was in progress.

“It should have been avoided,” Weber said. “It’s my guys, it’s my fault. They came here wanting to have a game, compete, and we didn’t compete the way we needed to, and probably a little frustration, especially the young guys.”

Weber had instructed his players to back off in the closing seconds and let the game run out. And while Self said he didn’t agree with the steal and layup attempt, he did acknowledge that Kansas State was merely playing to the final whistle.

“Silvio knew he was being defended,” Self said. “He took his ball, and certainly the way Silvio reacted to getting his ball taken, going and blocking his shot, that’s fair game. What transpired after that is what set everything off.”

What punishments are coming?

While he won’t be alone, De Sousa is likely to receive the stiffest punishment from the incident — the latest chapter in a career that has brought far more embarrassment and frustration to Kansas than pride and success.

It was De Sousa whose name surfaced in the FBI probe into college basketball in October 2018, and that in part led to an NCAA investigation of Kansas. The school received a notice of allegations last September that outlined major violations in men’s basketball, levied a head coach responsibility charge against Self and alleged a lack of institutional control. Those violations are being appealed and a decision is not expected until well after the season.

De Sousa was suspended last season for his role in the case, and he was supposed to sit out this season as well. But the school successfully appealed the decision, allowing the junior forward to return to the court.

Asked what his message was in the locker room after the game, Self replied: “There was no discussion on what happened from their vantage point. We talked to them and relayed to them how selfish it was. We relayed how disappointed we are. We should be in here talking about Christian Braun and selfishness created a situation where that’s not going to be the story line whatsoever. There was no communication back and forth. It was one way.”

Indeed, Braun was the story of the game until the final seconds after hitting six 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 20 points in his first Sunflower Showdown. The freshman guard grew up in nearby Burlington, Kansas.

Devon Dotson added 18 points and Udoka Azubuike finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds for Kansas (15-3, 5-1 Big 12), which beat the Wildcats for the 14th straight time at Allen Fieldhouse. Xavier Sneed had 16 points and David Sloan had 14 for the Wildcats (8-10, 1-5), who played a part in ending the Jayhawks’ conference title run last season.

“Credit to them. They kicked our butt,” said Weber, whose chin was reddened by what he called a stress-induced reaction. “I’m just happy nothing major happened to either team where there was an escalated fight. It was a bad play at the end. It’s disappointing. Life lessons for our young guys and hopefully next time they’ll be a little smarter.”