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High school football is in the heart of the state playoffs, but the prep basketball season is right around the corner. Defending Division 1 state champion Ypsilanti Lincoln will have a new look surrounding the nation’s top player, Emoni Bates.

Bates, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week. He led Lincoln to its first state championship as a freshman phenom last year with the help of four senior guards.

Now, Lincoln will be younger, but that certainly doesn’t mean any less talented.

Lincoln will be much bigger this season with 6-6 sophomore Decorian Temple and 6-9, 320-pound Tate MacKenzie – who had offers from Michigan and Toledo for football – joining Bates, along with one of the top freshmen in the state, 6-3 combo guard Braelon Green.

Geen played AAU ball for The Family and won a national slam dunk contest for eighth graders.

Also joining Lincoln is sophomore point guard Simon Wheeler, who sat out last year at Ferndale after transferring from Detroit East English.

Practice gets underway Nov. 18 and the season opener will be state title game worthy when Lincoln plays Division 2 runnerup River Rouge at Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center on Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. River Rouge – which will move up to Division 1 this season – defeated Lincoln at EMU last year, 78-47.

River Rouge coach Lamonta Stone is looking forward to facing Bates and Lincoln. He wasn’t surprised to see him on the cover of SI.

“I told you last year I thought he was a pro before we played him,” said Stone of Bates. “When I was (an assistant coach) at Ohio State I started recruiting talented kids as freshmen and sophomores and Josh Jackson, O.J. Mayo and Emoni were probably the three kids that I had seen as freshmen that you knew would be in the NBA. The other two are NBA guys and he’s an NBA guy.”

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The NBA may rescind its “one and done” rule by the time Bates is a senior in 2022.

“I think his (2022) class will be the first class to go right out of high school and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the No. 1 pick,” Stone said. “He’s just that good of a talent.”

Bates averaged 28.5 points and 10.2 rebounds last season but Stone predicts that he’ll have to play an even bigger role this season if Lincoln hopes to repeat as state champion.

“I think he’ll have to carry the team more, because they’ve got a bunch of freshman and sophomores, but he’s gotten better and is capable of carrying a team whoever they’re playing because he’s so talented,” Stone said. “I root for him every game but one. I feel if he’s successful, it makes high school basketball in the state of Michigan successful.”

E.J. Bates, Emoni’s father, says Green will make an impact his freshman year.

“I think Braelon will be a tremendous asset for us,” E.J. said. “He’s a shooting guard and a heck of a playmaker. He’s very versatile, super athletic and a high-energy guy.”

MacKenzie can’t wait to get back on the court after sitting out last season while preparing for his senior year of football. Michigan is now out of the question, but Toledo remains an option for football, as does Eastern Michigan. He took a visit to Grand Valley State last Friday.

“I haven’t talked to Michigan in a while – they have plenty of four-stars on their offensive line – but I like Toledo a lot, I’ve been talking with Eastern Michigan and I really like Grand Valley,” said MacKenzie of his football options.

On his reason for playing basketball his senior year, MacKenzie says: “I love to play basketball, that’s why I came out. I missed it last year when I started going to games. I feel I can get a couple of post layups, get some rebounds and help the team out.”

Lincoln coach Jesse Davis agrees.

“We were all guards last year, so it will be nice to have someone who can alter shots,” said Davis of MacKenzie. “We lost nine guys from last year’s team, so it will be a whole new team.”

Yes, but it will again all start and end with Emoni Bates.

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