Emoni Bates, Andrew Wiggins and the danger of hype

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Emoni Bates set the college basketball and NBA world on fire on Monday afternoon when he announced that he has committed to Michigan State.

If you don’t know that name by now, it’s time to familiarize yourself.

A 6-foot-9 forward from Ypsilanti, Michigan, Bates is 16 years old and a member of the Class of 2022. He’s also widely considered the best prospect in high school basketball today. He’s the youngest player to ever with the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year award, doing it as a sophomore. According to one long-time high school scout that I spoke with at last summer’s Peach Jam, Bates was hands-down the best freshman that he had evaluated since a guy named LeBron James.

Heard of him?

I am steadfastly against comparing high schoolers to the best players in the NBA because it feeds the hype, but it is impossible to watch Bates’ elite mix of handle and shot-making ability at 6-foot-9 and not come away thinking that you just watched the second-coming of Kevin Durant.

And this is where I switch up the tone of this column.

This is where I urge the rest of my colleagues in the media and content creation business to tone it down, to keep the hype train from going totally off the rails.

Why?

Two words: Andrew Wiggins.

MORE: What is the G League pathway program?

The last player that had this level of national hype this early in his high school career was Wiggins. The Ben Simmons bandwagon didn’t really fill up until his freshman season started. Zion Williamson wasn’t ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his own recruiting class by any of the reputable outlets. There’s a case to be made for Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III, and there’s a conversation needs to be had about Harry Giles and his knees, but for my money, the answer here is Wiggins.

He was the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in a recruiting class that many expected to change the future of the sport, and he was considered the consensus best prospect in high school basketball starting his sophomore season.

Today, he’s widely considered somewhere between a flop and a bust despite the fact that, as a 24-year old six seasons into his NBA career, he’s averaging 19.7 points and by 2023 will have banked $170 million. Nothing about that is unsuccessful, and to be frank, the way his career has played out justified the hype he had in high school.

I’d argue that, barring catastrophic injury, Wiggins today is a bottom-10th percentile outcome for the player that Wiggins was as a 16-year old. He’s an elite athlete that has never been able to figure it out defensively. He’s a very capable scorer that has never developed into more than an average shooter at best. He never learned how to be a playmaker. The lack of a killer instinct that came to the forefront during his one-and-done season at Kansas turned out to be a real concern in the NBA.

And despite all of that, he’s still, at an absolute minimum, one of the 75-best people in the world at doing his job.

I’d argue that’s evidence the hype was legitimate. He’s still this good despite being at the bottom of his range of outcomes.

I’d also argue that’s evidence that the hype is the reason Wiggins will never be viewed as a success.

Which brings me back to Bates.

I do think there’s a world where Bates follows a similar career path to Wiggins. He’s a slender, 165 pounds with a frame that doesn’t look like it can support all that much more added weight. How will he develop as a defender? We know what he is as a scorer right now, but how will he develop as a playmaker? More importantly, he measured at 6-foot-9 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan at the Nike Top 100 camp last summer. I mention this because Durant has a wingspan that checks in at 7-foot-4, and while he’s listed at 6-foot-9, everybody with a pulse knows that he’s a 7-foot shooting guard.

Is Bates “simply” an elite prospect that just so happened to grow, maintain his coordination and develop his skill-set at an earlier age than anyone else?

Put another way, is Bates the best freshman prospect or the best freshman player since LeBron? Because there is a difference.

Point being, Bates’ floor in the NBA is a bucket-getting wing. I’d be shocked if he didn’t end up averaging 20 points, if not much more, at the next level. I wouldn’t be shocked if he turned out to be a perennial NBA All-Star, either; at the very least, I don’t think anyone is going to question this kid’s killer instinct. And yes, there is a real chance that Emoni Bates is one day discussed as the best basketball player in the world.

These are all in his range of outcomes.

When you can say a 16-year old’s floor is a career-20 point scorer that is on track to earn upwards of $300-million in his NBA career, it’s clear we’re dealing with someone special.

But that’s not the way this story is going to be told. The narrative will be one extreme or the other. Either Bates lives up to the hype and enters his name in the race for the GOAT, or he’s a bust that was completely overhyped by click-bait artists trying to garner some YouTube subs.

The truth, however, is this: Bates could be Durant. He could also be Wiggins. The most likely outcome is that he’s ends up somewhere in the middle. That’s the way these things usually work, and until we, the media, are able to talk about prospects like this and think about players in this manner, we should avoid crowning high school sophomores as the best in the world.

Hype in dangerous when it cannot be kept in context.

Andrew Wiggins is the proof.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.