Michigan’s Bates is hoops prodigy, nation’s No. 1 7th-grader

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Emoni Bates

Ann Arbor – The tiny gym at Ann Arbor Clague Junior High was packed Thursday afternoon with basketball fans anxiously awaiting to get a glimpse of 6-foot-6 Emoni Bates, ranked the No. 1 rated seventh-grader in the nation by one recruiting website.

And did the 12-year-old Bates ever put on a show Thursday, tossing in and slamming down 28 points to set the tempo in the opening quarter against Ann Arbor Scarlett in an eventual 79-47 victory.

Bates got the job done in all types of ways, hitting a pair of 3-pointers early, one from 25 feet, also scoring on a layup in transition, making a spin move and driving for a layup in a half-court set and putting down a thunderous dunk to get the fans off the bleachers for a 28-6 cushion.

Bates scored 48 for the game, sitting out the first half of the second quarter before making three more 3-pointers, then sitting out the entire third quarter.

Bates has been compared to Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors. Durant is his favorite player, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are his favorite team. He said Michigan State and Kentucky are his top college basketball teams. One day – possibly soon – he could be getting offers from the Spartans and Wildcats.

“I just have to keep working hard on my game and keep good grades,” said Emoni of possibly playing for the Spartans or Wildcats. He has a 3.3 GPA and his favorite subject is math.

Emoni isn’t concerned with his No. 1 ranking. He just enjoys playing basketball.

“I just liked playing when I first saw it,” said Bates. “I was always surrounded by my older cousins and they all played, so when I got my opportunity to take over with what they used to do, I did and had fun with it.

“I like everything about it, just love it. I play two or three hours in the gym, every day, just working on my game. I like shooting the three the most because I can shoot and I like taking the ball to the basket too. I’m working on strength training now; that’s the biggest thing I need to work on for AAU.”

Bates says he doesn’t pay attention to the recruiting rankings.

“No sir, I don’t pay attention to them at all,” Bates said. “I just stay focused on my school and basketball, that’s it.”

Emoni was a little surprised with his growth spurt, going from 6-2 to 6-6 during the last year.

“It was like overnight -- I just kind of woke up and I was huge,” Bates said. “I just kept growing and it was like, ‘Thank God,’ since I like being tall. That’s cool.”

Emoni has always been big for his size, born at 8 pounds, 7 ounces and 21 inches long. He was 6-foot in fourth grade, 6-2 in sixth grade and now is 6-6.

Bates’ father helped him develop his great ball skills and shooting touch.

Emoni Bates and E.J. Bates after Clague's victory over Scarlett on Thursday.

“I was a shooter and I always made sure he worked on his shot,” said Emoni’s father, E.J. Bates, who played in high school at Milan and Ann Arbor Pioneer, in college ball at Kentucky Wesleyan, and six years professionally in Europe. “The first thing I wanted him to get down was his ball-handling skills because the game has evolved into a ball-dominant type of game, so I wanted him to get his ball-handling down to where he could get anywhere he wanted to get on the floor.

“Once he started really getting stronger with the ball he worked on his jump shot. He’s always working on his shot to where he’s confident all the way around.”

E.J. said Emoni has a fun-loving personality, and enjoys SkyZone and laser tag.

"He's a goofball, but it's a different switch once he steps on the floor," said E.J. of Emoni.

E.J. has always guided Emoni in his development, knowing he was special at an early age.

“He fell in love with the game at 3 years old, dribbling the ball at the house all the time,” said E.J. of his son. “My wife said, ‘Put the ball down, you’re dribbling too much and making too much noise,’ and I was like, ‘He’s gravitating toward the ball, he loves it and we have to let him stick with his gift.’ And, come to find out, basketball is really his gift.

“He loves it and he has the passion and desire for it, and when he works he works hard with high intensity. Really, I knew he was special when he started playing with the ball, just by how many countless hours he spent in the basement and outside, dribbling and shooting, once I saw the drive and work ethic I knew he was special and that was about age 5 or 6.”

E.J. got Emoni into AAU ball in the fourth grade, then coached him with the Toledo Wildcats last year and now with the Bates Fundamentals team.

“I’ve always coached him, been the head or assistant coach,” E.J. said. “Really, playing with the Wildcats last year put him on the map. We traveled all over, played in Houston, Dallas, D.C., Chicago, Alabama, really enjoyed it.”

Emoni does not yet have a college offer, but that could come in the months ahead, definitely in the years ahead.

But for now, Edith Bates, Emoni’s mother, is making sure he stays grounded on the court and in the classroom.

“He’s been playing basketball for a long time, since 3 or 4, so watching him grow, develop and reach his goals, I just really love watching him play,” said Edith, who played basketball at Clague, then Ann Arbor Huron. “I travel with them when they play AAU ball. I’m his support system, making sure he’s eating what he needs to eat and gets to bed on time.”

Edith says she wants her son to be more than just a great basketball player.

“I keep him balanced,” she said. “At home, he’s just Emoni, my son, and out here he’s Emoni the basketball star. I try to balance it out for him with school, his character and being a good teammate. We try to balance that all out, but the most important thing to me is his morals. I want to make sure he’s grounded there, then there’s basketball.”

Fans wanting to get a look at Bates can watch him play for his AAU team, Bates Fundamentals, Saturday at Lutheran Northwest High in Rochester Hills with games slated for 2 and 4 p.m.