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Emoni Bates is just 17 years old, and he has already been projected as the best high school basketball prospect in more than a decade. He’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, compared to Kevin Durant and pinpointed at the center of the next generation of NBA talent.
With that notoriety has come astronomical expectations and public pressure, which coupled with a slew of deaths in his inner circle over the past year nearly prompted Bates to walk away from basketball.
“I wanted to stop playing,” Bates told Stadium. “I was ready to be done with it.”
Bates’ life changed when he found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated in October 2019. What he considered “fun at first,” quickly spiraled into a swarm of people looking to take advantage of him and an overpowering spotlight.
His parents, Elgin and Edith, have been concerned for their son’s wellbeing. Edith said she believes people are waiting for Bates’ downfall, which is evident in how some shout “over-rated” at him during games.
“The things people say definitely affect me,” Bates said. “People don’t really know me. If people knew who I really was, I don’t think they’d be saying some of the things they say.
Comparing a 15-year-old to Kevin Durant sounds crazy… if you haven’t seen Emoni Bates: https://t.co/0Gd3ARgOQF pic.twitter.com/ngb0KJY0GR
“Outside of basketball, people live real lives, they go through things. People deal with stuff they don’t talk about that you might not know. On the court, you don’t know what might be happening. I’ll tell them, ‘Don’t bash a person so much that they break.’ People have feelings, and you should watch out for people’s feelings.”
On top of navigating his new celebrity status, Bates lost his close friend, Nareon Grier, last Sept. 11 when he was shot and killed. His great-grandmother passed away about a year ago, as well. Additionally, Bates had to adjust after transferring to the brand-new Ypsi Prep Academy, which was created by his father.
But Bates has been working his way back, splitting his time during the July evaluation period between national power Team Final and a local Michigan program, Bates Fundamentals, a team his father runs. Elgin believes that his son’s time with Team Final got him mentally back on track.
“I was overjoyed seeing it,” Elgin said. “You could see the love starting to come back for the game. He was playing with an organization that had one goal in mind: winning.”
Bates is projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, though some rankings have bumped him below Jalen Duren. He told Stadium that he finished his high school academic requirements and will re-classify into the class of 2021.
If he decides to go to college, Bates will be one of the youngest freshmen in the country. The 6-foot-9 forward could go to Memphis, Oregon or Michigan State, the school he de-committed from back in April. He’ll likely make a decision in the next few weeks. Bates plans to visit Memphis on Wednesday, according to Stadium, before making the trip to Oregon Friday.
Despite the upcoming visits, Bates won’t necessarily take the college route, even though he can now make money off his likeness with the new NIL rules. He could possibly join the G League Ignite.
“I’m honestly not sure what I’m going to do yet,” he said.
NBA rules say you have to be 19 at the end of the calendar year to be eligible for the NBA Draft. Considering Bates won’t turned 19 until January 2023, he won’t be able to leave for the NBA after next season no matter where he ends up.