The next LeBron? Emoni Bates makes history, winning prestigious national award as a sophomore

Yahoo Sports

Emoni Bates woke up Tuesday to tweets from Dwyane Wade and Jayson Tatum congratulating him on winning the Gatorade Player of the Year award — an award Tatum won himself in 2016. In other circumstances, Tatum would have surprised Bates at school or after practice, but this is the new world we live in with social distancing and quarantining.

Bates is the first sophomore ever to win this award dating all the way back to 1986. Past winners include LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Ben Simmons and Karl-Anthony Towns.

“It feels really good to get this award — especially being so young and being recognized is a real honor,” Bates told Yahoo Sports.

Bates beating out future top-five NBA draft prospects Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley to win the award speaks as to how talented he is.

“He has all the tools to be a great player,” Tatum said. “He’s tall, long, can score from all over the court and has a great feel for the game. He’s the real deal.”

Emoni Bates won the Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year award. (Photo credit: Gatorade)
Emoni Bates won the Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year award. (Photo credit: Gatorade)

Bates lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and emerged onto the basketball scene as a freshman at the USA Basketball training camp. In a gym full of 80 of the top players in the country, Bates stood out as one of the best.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi remembers that weekend and the first time he saw Bates play. “Within two minutes of watching him in drills, I recognized right away that he was built different than anyone else in the gym and played the game at a higher level,” Bossi told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and he’s one of the best prospects I’ve seen.”

This past summer, Bates had the chance to play in front of NBA royalty when he matched up against Bronny James. LeBron sat in the corner and watched quietly as Bates scored 43 points on his son.

“We didn’t get a chance to talk afterwards but I would see LeBron during the game just nodding his head at me. I think he liked what he saw. I was working that game,” Bates said with a laugh.

The 6-foot-9 wing is built more like Kevin Durant with his 7-foot-1 wingspan, but the LeBron comparisons are drawn due to his dominance on the high school level and the possibility of going to straight to the league. In his sophomore season he averaged 32.4 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game. In two years of high school basketball he’s scored an astonishing 1,343 points.

There are always talks and discussions of the one-and-done rule being removed from college basketball but no one knows when that will happen. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has yet to announce which draft class it could affect, leaving Bates in limbo on what his future holds.

“To be honest, I don’t even know yet,” Bates said. “If I have to go play a year in college, that’s what I’m going to do. If I can go straight to the league, then that’s what I’m going to do. Of course I want to play in the NBA. That’s been my dream.”

Blue-blood programs like Duke and Kentucky have already made offers to him, as well as hometown schools Michigan and Michigan State.

This weekend was supposed to be the first live period for AAU basketball when college coaches could watch some of the top recruits like Bates play. Instead, Bates is continuing to work on his game with his dad in his backyard and talk to NBA mentors like Ja Morant and Dejounte Murray on a daily basis.

“They just tell me to keep being me and stay in the gym and just work harder than everyone else. And don’t let the outside distractions get to you,” Bates said. “It’s nice to have those guys as mentors because they’re where I want to be.”

No one knows when basketball, at any level, will resume. But one thing is for sure: Bates will be a name people will remember at the high school level for years to come.

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