Emoni Bates, former No. 1 high school basketball recruit, transferring to Eastern Michigan

·3 min read

Emoni Bates, one of the most-hyped high school basketball prospects in recent memory, is headed to a new school. And it’s in his hometown.

Bates, a native of Ypsilanti, Michigan, announced Wednesday that he will transfer to Eastern Michigan University.

Bates, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school sophomore amid comparisons to NBA greats like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, is headed to EMU following an uneven freshman season at Memphis playing under Penny Hardaway.

During his lone season with the Tigers, the 6-foot-9 Bates played in 18 games with 13 starts. He averaged 9.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting just 38.6% from the field. Bates missed a significant chunk of the season with an apparent back injury but did return in a reserve role for Memphis’ two NCAA tournament games. Notably, Memphis went 10-2 without Bates in the lineup.

Following the season, Bates decided to enter the transfer portal. In May, he publicly narrowed his suitors down to six schools: Arkansas, DePaul, Eastern Michigan, Louisville, Michigan and Seton Hall. Louisville was initially seen as the favorite to land Bates and there were rumors of contact with other schools in recent weeks. In the end, Bates decided to transfer home to EMU.

Eastern Michigan, a member of the Mid-American Conference, went 10-21 last season, its first under head coach Stan Heath. Heath is an EMU alum who previously was the head coach at Kent State, Arkansas and South Florida. Eastern Michigan, which has also added transfers from Georgetown and Providence this offseason, last reached the NCAA tournament in 1998.

“People probably look at me crazy because I’m considering Eastern,” Bates told On3 in May. “But if I went there, I would be like the neighborhood hero. I used to play at Eastern during my high school games when I was at Lincoln, and we used to pack it out every time. That would be crazy for me to be able to bring love to the city.”

Memphis' Emoni Bates (1) plays against Western Kentucky in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)
Memphis' Emoni Bates (1) plays against Western Kentucky in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

The winding path of Emoni Bates

A few years ago, Bates was considered the No. 1 player in the class of 2022 and was hailed by some as the best prospect since LeBron James. Bates led Lincoln High School to a state championship as a freshman and won the national Gatorade Player of the Year award as a sophomore. The first sophomore to ever win the award, Bates was looked at as a potential future No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

In June 2020, Bates verbally committed to Michigan State, but many were skeptical he’d ever end up in East Lansing with professional options becoming more accessible for high school prospects.

In April 2021, Bates decommitted from Michigan State and — after playing for a prep school founded by his father — he later decided to reclassify into the class of 2021. At that time (August 2021), he narrowed his options to four: G-League Ignite, Memphis, Michigan State and Oregon. Later that month, Bates chose to team up with fellow five-star prospect Jalen Duren at Memphis.

In the final 2021 player rankings from Rivals, Bates ended up at No. 5 nationally. Duren, a 6-foot-11 center who also moved from the 2022 class into the 2021 class, was No. 4.

Duren had a strong year at Memphis and was selected No. 13 overall in last week’s NBA draft. The three players ranked ahead of Duren and Bates — Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Shaedon Sharpe — were also first-round selections. Banchero and Holmgren were the top two picks. Sharpe went No. 7.

Bates, who only turned 18 on Jan. 28, was not eligible for the draft because of his age. With a strong season at Eastern Michigan, there’s still time for Bates to blossom into a first-round talent in 2023.