Five-star Emoni Bates commits to Memphis, adding to Penny Hardaway's loaded recruiting class

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Memphis basketball's dominant recruiting run hit another fever pitch Wednesday with the addition of five-star mega-prospect Emoni Bates.

Once hailed as the most promising basketball prospect of his generation, Bates announced his verbal commitment to play for Penny Hardaway and the Tigers this season.

"I will be taking my talents to Memphis," Bates said during an Instagram Live broadcast before donning a Tigers baseball cap and being showered by confetti and cheers from a small group of family and supporters.

"I just felt like coach Penny could prepare me for the next level," Bates told Stadium’s Jeff Goodman and The Field of 68’s Rob Dauster shortly after his announcement. "I'm super excited (the recruiting process) is over. I’m ready. I’m about to lock in even more. I’m about to go turn up my Tiger fans."

The 6-foot-9 guard, who recently reclassified into the class of 2021, joins friend and former AAU teammate Jalen Duren, a 6-foot-10 center, on a Memphis roster that has added considerable firepower since the team won the NIT in March. Bates becomes the second highest-ranked recruit in Tigers history, behind only James Wiseman and slightly ahead of Derrick Rose. He is the second five-star Hardaway has added this offseason and the fifth since he was named coach in spring 2018.

Emoni Bates was the National Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020.
Emoni Bates was the National Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020.

Bates is the No. 4 prospect in the class of 2021 and Duren is No. 5, according to the 247Sports Composite.

"It definitely affected it," Bates said of his relationship with Duren. "Me and him always talk. We talked way before all this even happened. We said we want to play together. So, me and him are gonna rock out together."

Bates, who has drawn comparisons to the likes of NBA star Kevin Durant, spent his high school career playing first for Ypsilanti Lincoln in his hometown in Michigan, then for Ypsi Prep, a school started by his family. But he burst onto the scene as a freshman at the USA Basketball training camp.

In 2019, Bates landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The next year he won National Gatorade Player of the Year, becoming the first sophomore to win the 35-year-old award. He did so after averaging 33.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game.

Bates initially declared he was headed to Michigan State, committing to Tom Izzo in June 2020. However, he backed off his pledge to the Spartans in April.

As the rules are currently written, Bates, 17, will not be eligible for the 2022 NBA draft, which leaves open the possibility that he could be at Memphis for two seasons. Although, he will almost certainly take time to reevaluate his options after his freshman season with the Tigers.

Bates told Goodman and Dauster the opportunity to play point guard at Memphis (á la Hardaway) made the Tigers particularly appealing.

"Definitely huge for me. I’ve been able to show I an score my whole life," he said. "Going to college, I want to show I can do everything, and (Penny) is going to help me (do that)."

Bates and Duren are the sixth and seventh additions Hardaway have made since March. Six players on his roster when the 2020-21 season began either transferred mid-season or left within days of season's end.

Hardaway has since reloaded with a group of transfers and incoming recruits that is joining a strong foundation made up of last season's leading scorer Landers Nolley II, integral components Lester Quinones and DeAndre Williams, and steady veteran guard Alex Lomax.

The rest of Hardaway's second No. 1 recruiting class in the last three years consists of guard Johnathan Lawson, wings Josh Minott and John Camden and center Sam Onu.

Earl Timberlake, a projected 2022 first-round NBA draft pick, is on board after transferring from Miami. Former Oregon player and Memphis native Chandler Lawson has also been added to the group. Tyler Harris, coming off a one-season stint at Iowa State, has returned to Memphis, where he spent his freshman and sophomore years.

Bates, who turns 18 in January, chose Memphis over a group of finalists that included Michigan State, Oregon and the G League. Bates and Duren were viewed as prime candidates to skip college and begin their professional careers, largely due to the financial benefits tied to such a decision.

But, earlier this summer, the NCAA reversed its long-standing stance preventing college athletes from profiting off their name, image and/or likeness.

Bates said Wednesday his ability to earn money via NIL didn't necessarily sway his decision.

"I was going to go (to the place) based off the best fit for me, no matter what it was," he said. "Whatever was going to fit my game and help me grow as a player, that’s where I was going."

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Emoni Bates commits to Memphis and coach Penny Hardaway