Nation’s No. 1 recruit looking for a place to play. Don’t expect it to be Kentucky.

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Ben Roberts
·4 min read
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The announcement late last week that Emoni Bates — the most highly touted recruit in all of high school basketball — was backing out of his commitment to Michigan State was certainly a major development.

It was big news that got big headlines across the country. It was also met with big yawns in recruiting circles.

For those who have closely followed Bates’ basketball journey so far, there wasn’t much question that the day of his decommitment would come at some point. It was just a matter of when. And a matter of, “What’s next?”

Bates — labeled as basketball’s next big thing before he’d even played a game as a freshman — has long been seen as the nation’s top overall prospect, regardless of class, and the notion that he would skip college altogether was already there even before he announced his commitment to Michigan State last June.

There was already buzz then that Bates — the No. 1 player in the 2022 class — would eventually turn pro out of high school, instead of spending a year in college. There were also rumblings then that he might reclassify to 2021 and get that pro career started even earlier. As a January 2004 birthday, Bates wouldn’t be eligible to enter the NBA Draft until 2023, but other lucrative options await in the meantime.

“I’m not sure what my future holds, but I am keeping all of my options open, both college and pro,” Bates posted on Instagram over the weekend.

Publicly, college is still being mentioned as an option. And a few teams, including Tennessee and Texas, have already reached out with scholarship offers. There’s also been some hope around Kentucky that the Wildcats might jump in and make a run at the basketball phenom.

Bates — a 6-foot-8 small forward from Ypsilanti, Mich. — has talked in the past about UK and Michigan State being the schools he followed the most as a younger kid.

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Kentucky is certain to make a strong move on several of the most highly ranked players in the country once John Calipari’s new coaching staff — expected to include top recruiter Orlando Antigua — gets settled into place in the coming days and weeks. That group of targets will undoubtedly include some players who have already been linked to professional options.

Maybe Bates will be on that list, but — even if he is — don’t expect him to come to Kentucky. Or anywhere else within the world of college basketball.

Barring a major surprise, the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class is destined for the pros, and several recruiting analysts were quick to post predictions saying just that on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page over the weekend.

Immediately after Bates’ announcement that he was no longer committed to Michigan State, the rush of Crystal Ball picks began. They were all in favor of the professional option, including such predictions from Jerry Meyer, Travis Branham and Dushawn London, who cover recruiting nationally for 247Sports. Meyer and a Michigan State insider for the website both put a high confidence level of “9 out of 10” on their picks.

Now that Bates is no longer publicly committed to Michigan State, his recruitment doesn’t seem to be a question of “college or pro?” as much as one of “when and where will he start his professional basketball career?”

The G League’s new preps-to-pros program has often been cited as a possible landing spot, but — unless the NBA unexpectedly changes its draft eligibility rules — the 17-year-old would have to spend two seasons there before going to the draft. And would that be the best fit — from a developmental standpoint — for someone with his ability?

Playing overseas is also a possibility. LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton both went that route out of high school two years ago, and both were first-round draft picks in 2020. Ball is the current favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors this season. There is even some speculation in recruiting circles that — if Bates does play overseas next season — he might be able to work through a loophole in the NBA Draft eligibility rules and be designated as an international player, making him eligible for next year’s draft.

Whether that can be worked out remains to be seen, but either of those professional routes would prove highly lucrative, making Bates a basketball millionaire before he even steps foot on an NBA court.

Kentucky might very well land some top-five recruits over the next couple of years. That’ll be the goal once the program’s new coaching staff is finalized, and it’ll start with some targets currently at the top of the 2022 rankings.

But signing Bates looks to be more pipe dream than reality.

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