Freshman phenom Emoni Bates helps Ypsilanti Lincoln clinch SEC White championship

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Ypsilanti Lincoln freshman Emoni Bates, pictured here in a game against Saline earlier this season, scored 36 points and had 19 rebounds in his team's SEC White-title clinching 73-65 victory over Jackson on Monday.

Emoni Bates has done what few freshmen have done before in state history, changing the course of history for his high school’s basketball team.

Bates, a 6-foot-8 phenom who is considered to be the top freshman in the nation, continued his Dream Team type season Monday night when he scored 36 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to lead Ypsilanti Lincoln to a 73-65 win over Jackson (14-4, 10-3) to clinch the SEC White division championship.

Lincoln (15-3, 12-1) — No. 12 in The Detroit News Super 20 rankings — has ended Ypsilanti’s nine-year run of SEC titles by sweeping its crosstown series between the teams. Bates scored 43 before a standing room only crowd of more than 2,000 fans, including Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, in a 68-56 comeback win at Ypsilanti Jan. 18, then scoring 25 before approximately 4,000 fans in a 67-66 win at Eastern Michigan’s Convocation Center last Friday.

Bates wanted to seal the deal Monday night at Jackson to get the win and clinch the title instead of having to wait for the rematch at Lincoln on Thursday.

Lincoln was set to play a non-league home game against Hanover-Horton Tuesday night, followed by the home game with Jackson Thursday to conclude the regular season.

Lincoln athletic director Chris Westfall, who has been the school's head football coach since 2007, doesn’t know the last time the boys basketball team has won a league title.

Bates, who averages 30.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, came out with energy against Jackson, scoring 10 points in the opening quarter and 22 by halftime to open a 41-25 halftime lead. Lincoln led the rest of the way to close out the win and open a two-game cushion on Jackson with one league game remaining.

“This feels real good, especially being a freshman coming in and making a big impact to help my team out,” said Bates after the win, hearing chants of SEC champions in the background. “I just try to get better every day in practice to help the team, just go hard every day.”

Lincoln returned the majority of its starters, including 6-2 Amari Frye, 6-1 point guard Tahj Chatman and 5-10 Jalen Fisher from last year’s 11-10 team.

Frye stepped up Monday with a 19-point, eight-rebound effort. He scored seven straight points near the end of the first half to spark a 12-4 run. He then scored 10 more points during the final 12 minutes to prevent a Jackson comeback after the lead had dwindled to six in the fourth quarter.

“This is my first (title) in high school so this feels great to come in first place in our league for the first time,” Frye said. “I just did whatever I could to help my team win because they came back a bit. We just stayed together and got the win. I feel nobody can stop us if we play together and play great defense.”

Frye had high praise for Bates, saying: “He’s young, only 15 years old so us being upperclassmen we just make sure his head is on straight at all time, make sure he’s doing what’s he’s supposed to do on the defensive end. I haven’t seen anybody score the ball better than him. He can score anyway he wants, off the dribble, off the ball.”

Bates is happy with his supporting cast.

“I have a lot of support, we have a real good group and when someone gets down we pick each other up, stick together and ride it out,” Bates said.

The sweep over Ypsilanti was down to hard work, he said.

“I know some of those guys on that team and so do my guys so it was real good for us to get back-to-back wins against them,” Bates said.

So, where does Bates feel he’s improved the most as his rookie year has moved on?

“I’ve been getting to the basket a lot more, gotten better with my rebuilding too, just have to keep rebounding,” Bates said.

Bates is looking forward to the state tournament. Lincoln will play the Belleville-Ypsilanti winner in next Wednesday’s Division 1 district semifinal at Belleville.

“It’s going to be real special because this is my first time in it,” Bates said. “I know my team needs me so I’ll just go out and play hard. We just play basketball.”

Westfall feels Lincoln will be playing in the toughest district in the state, pointing out that five of the six teams are ranked in The News West Top 10 with Lincoln at No. 3, Ann Arbor Pioneer, No. 4, Ann Arbor Huron No. 5, Ypsilanti, No. 7 and Belleville No. 10. Saline is also in the field.

Lincoln won its last district title in 2010.