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Emoni Bates Keeps Leveling Up Before Our Eyes

We have been introduced to basketball phenoms every year. It is a national tradition. This time, though, it looks like we could be onto something different. Emoni Bates can’t stop improving and he sure is here to stay.

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If you have ever watched any kind of mixtape or highlight video of any high school prospect you know how it usually goes. One of the most-followed channels of that type of content uploads something with a catchy name, like “Andrew Wiggins DUNKS OVER HIS DAMN HEAD!!!” or “Brandon Jennings MAKES D-MAN BRAKE HIS ANKLES AND PUTS HIM IN AN AMBULANCE!!!”, and that is without taking emojis into consideration, go figure. It’s been like that since the days of John Starks, probably, had YouTube existed.

Once the video is uploaded and you have found it because you typed the prospect’s name on the search bar, and read that catchy title that made you click on it and saw that incredible image on its cover, you’re finally there waiting those milliseconds until the footage is buffered enough so it can be played. And finally, images start flowing and you indulge them.

The problem with most highlight mixtapes and clips is that they focus on one player (you actually like this if you’re looking to watch someone in particular), and they normally show the same stuff because that is what people like you want. Dunks, layups, monster blocks. It was the case with Emoni Bates no more than a year or so ago.

Bates, in case you don’t know about him yet, is the next-big-thing. He’s already made the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 15. He’s been labeled as the next LeBron James (do you see the parallels?) I love the story in my own way, too, because he’s from Michigan and that sounds to me like the perfect half-orange to complement LeBron’s Ohioan past. Not a lot of people mention that, and it probably makes no sense at all, but I like it as a curiosity.

Anyways, back to Emoni. Bates was born in 2004. I almost double his age. He’ll be 15 until late January 2020. He’s part of the 2022 HS class of graduates, which means--if everything goes according to plan--that he will be able to skip college and make it straight to the NBA via the draft, (probably) turning into the next no. 1 pick to get to an NBA team without ever stepping on campus. Bates is almost eight inches taller than me, and almost twice my weight. No joke. He plays in his hometown high school (Ypsilanti) and he has said he won’t jump places as other highly regarded prospects do every year these days to form superteams and, well, make mixtapes easier to put together I guess.

Bates is most probably the best prospect I have ever watched play high school basketball. I am not a victim of the hype here. I am telling a truth as big as my hopes are in the kid going big-time in the future. Believe me, I’m not trying to sell you his name (I don’t get paid by Bates or anything, not that he needs any more publicity...). Back to LeBron James: he has been the most hyped and media-covered under-18 player ever. That is out of the question here. Not even Bates is reaching those heights--not yet, at least. But I was a little bit too young to follow James’ freshman year at SVSM, and I only barely caught his last season in Ohio before jumping to the pros. I’m lucky to have enough of a brain to be watching Emoni blossom now, though, and I can’t believe what I’m watching.

Seriously. I know you probably don’t have much time to put on this exercise, but I would recommend you to do it: go to YouTube, look for Emoni Bates videos, and watch a few of them on chronological order. Start from the “old” ones until you reach those uploaded this past month or something. There is stuff from 2016 in there. If you watch one of those old videos, you’ll see a man among kids. Well, that was Bates at 12 years of age, pulling up from everywhere, getting buckets, but mostly dominating due to his physical edge over the competition.

That’s not a knock on him, but keep it in mind every time you watch any of these kids. They might look incredible, but compare them to his peers. Bates has been above them with his evolved frame for his age. Skinny as hell, sure, but tall as anyone and capable of outperforming most of his competitors on pure size.

The thing with Bates, at least to me, is that something happens each time I go watch any new video about him, no matter the tournament, setup, or team he plays at and for. Bates has always something new and better to offer. I watched him extensively last year and I was bored at first. I was bored because obviously, Bates could block rivals without even jumping, and I love watching him monster-block attackers and make mean faces toward them. But I could expect that. As I could expect him driving to the hoop to make easy layups or dunks. Those were most of Bates’ moves on his videos those days. Then a few weeks passed, I went to watch Bates again, and he was dribbling more than ever and had added some shooting range. Then he was driving, finding teammates, passing the ball, and shooting without hesitation. Then he was doing all of that and he had added some maturity to his game in which it didn’t look like a mixtape full of cut-and-pasted saucy plays but rather a composition of sequences from a cool and collected basketball player.

Bates has always looked mean to me. He has always carried this “murderous behavior” and ruthless attitude. He was a 13-year-old and he was playing against kids his age but he didn’t care if he made them cry or whatever. He’s going to block the living hell out of them like it was part of one of those Instagram videos where a massive 7-footer blocks a 5-foot-1 kid in the park and launches the ball to the stratosphere. That is still there, because Emoni Bates is Emoni Bates still, you know. But he doesn’t show it that much now. He just plays, passes, dribbles, scores, wins, enjoys and goes home after eating pizza or ice cream with his teammates. Business as usual.

Bates knows what he wants, and what his ultimate objective is. He is on the court, and he’s working for it. He’s focused and determined to excel no matter the surroundings. He’s faced top-tier competition already. Just this past summer he averaged 32 points and 15 boards in the U15 Nike EYBL AAU circuit. He even dropped 43 pops on Bronny’s ESPN-covered team. He is 15 years old, remember.

There is nothing wrong with saying Bates is the best freshman I’ve seen, and the best sophomore I’m watching these days and the best prospect in all high school hoops. There were others in the past, but either I missed them because I wasn’t even tall enough to reach the computer’s mouse on the table or they weren’t close to this kid in talent. I can’t believe my eyes with the evolution he showcases every new day he’s out there to the point I think (obviously to a certain extent) that all he should focus on now is in bulking up a bit. And he’s said he’s doing that already, and obviously, you can see that in the footage.

This will be just his second year in high school and I don’t even know what to look for in his game to evolve next. To think he still has more than two extra seasons of development next is just insane. And I’m glad I’m here to experience it happening all the way.