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

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This story on Emoni Bates was originally published on July 11th, 2019.

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.

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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 Bates 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.”

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.