Long before Emoni Bates ever played a high school basketball game, the speculation over his future as one of the top basketball prospects in the last two decades already had heated up.
It’s easy to see why.
The ultra-talented 6-foot-9 guard who just finished his sophomore season at Ypsilanti Lincoln has dominated every level he’s played. He led Lincoln to a state championship as a freshman before averaging 31 points and 10 rebounds per game last season while becoming the first sophomore and youngest player at age 16 to win the Gatorade High School Boys Basketball National Player of the Year.
The top-rated player in the 2022 class, many assumed Bates would forgo college basketball and enter the NBA. It was an option that most thought would be available by that season as it appeared the NBA was leaning toward scrapping the one-and-done rule that forces most prep player to spend at least one season in college.
However, that rule still exists, and on Monday, Bates surprised many by making a bold move and announcing his college commitment.
The one school that has recruited Bates hard ended up landing that commitment as Bates told a live audience on ESPN Monday that he was committing to Michigan State.
“I’m not sure what my future may hold, but I do know as of right know I will be committed to Michigan State University,” Bates said on ESPN. “They’ve been showing love to me since I was in the seventh grade, they’ve been recruiting me hard since then, so I just know that they’re showing that they love me genuine and they have just been here for a long time. I’m big on loyalty and they’ve showed me all loyalty, so I have to show them love back.”
The timing of Bates’ announcement certainly qualifies as a surprise. In an era when many top recruits tend to put off their decisions, Bates made it clear there never really was much debate.
And considering the fact plenty of top programs did not spend much time recruiting Bates — perhaps because they simply believed he had no intention of playing in college — his decision starts to make plenty of sense considering his fairly regular presence at Michigan State games in the past couple of years and work Tom Izzo and his staff put in throughout the process.
“To make this choice so soon in the process, maybe it was a giant (brush-off) to the rest of the college coaching industry because no one was recruiting him but Michigan State, for the most part,” Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans told The Detroit News. “Maybe it was simply about him saying, ‘I’m going to a place that wants me.’
“Kudos to Tom Izzo and his staff who actually had the will and desire to take chance on him despite constant chatter about the NBA.”
The lack of recruiting interest from other programs did not go unnoticed.
“I was upset at first,” EJ Bates, Emoni’s father, said on ESPN. “But the one that he really wanted to go to was recruiting him heavy and they’ve been consistent the whole way, so as long as he got the offer that he wanted and wanted to participate at and the school he actually wants to play for I’m happy.”
Whether Bates ultimately plays at Michigan State remains far from a sure thing.
The one-and-done rule could still be amended before Bates’ high school career is done, leaving the option open of heading right to the NBA. Bates also could explore other professional options, like playing the NBA’s G League or playing professionally overseas.
Even another path exists — Bates could reclassify to 2021 and play a season at Michigan State, but his father told The News last week there were no plans at this moment to reclassify.
“I’d be surprised if Emoni would not reclassify to 2021,” said Evans, who admitted the timing of Bates’ college choice was a surprise. “There are a lot of questions now at the beginning, but now we know where he’s going to play college basketball. Now it’s a matter of when he’ll do it and if he’ll do it.
“But this is one of the dominoes to fall with so many more to come.”
While some uncertainty over Bates’ future remains, it would be hard to find a negative reaction around East Lansing.
As the top-rated player in the nation, Bates is easily the highest-ranked player to commit to Michigan State in the era of player rankings, and depending on what season he would join the Spartans, he would immediately vault MSU to the top of the team rankings.
He is currently the only commit to the 2022 class and if he reclassifies to 2021, he’d be joining four-star guard Pierre Brooks. The Spartans are still in the mix for a handful of top-level recruits for next year and depending on whether any players on the current roster leave early or not, it could be shaping up to one of Izzo’s most talented rosters.
Of course, it’s all speculation at this point.
For now, though, the decision by Emoni Bates to commit to Michigan State qualifies as huge news, news that could lead to yet another remarkable chapter in the Izzo era for the Spartans.