It’s been 20 years since Michigan State made its last run to the Natty and won it to kick this century off all the way back in 2000. Back then, the Spartans were led by terrific players in the shape of Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, and Jason Richardson. It couldn’t get much better than that, and it showed. MSU finished the season 32-7 and defeated no. 5 Florida in the National Final 89-76.
That season was also Tom Izzo’s fifth year at the helm, and the chip surely impacted a certain no. 1 prospect in the nation when it came to picking a college to play for. Zach Randolph’s decision of joining the Spartans in 2000 marked the last time MSU landed the best prospect of any class in the past 20 years. There were other great players to choose MSU as their college: no. 2 Kelvin Torbert in 2001, no. 4 Shannon Brown in 2003, or even no. 7 Jaren Jackson just three years ago in 2017. But no one ever came close to that number one spot. Until now.
Just a few days ago, 2022 no. 1 prospect and for most “the best teenager basketball player since the very own LeBron James” committed to Michigan State University. This, folks, is the ultimate victory for MSU and pretty much makes up for all of the whiffs of the past. You can read the start of this paragraph again: the best prospect since LBJ. How can that not be enough to claim this commitment as something big enough to erase any blunders from the past?
I wrote about Emoni here a little over half a year ago. Odds are you have heard about him since then. The last time he stepped onto a basketball court—thanks COVID...—he was still a high school sophomore. Bates has two more years of high school ball before getting to Michigan State. If you are a super-optimistic Spartan fan, you might be buying into the rumors that he will probably reclassify to become part of the 2021 class, which would enable him to enroll in the school one year earlier. The thing is... will he ever do?
Whether you like the comparisons to LeBron James or not. Whether you buy the “next Kevin Durant” label. Wheth— No matter what you think of him, Emoni Bates is the real deal. There have been infinite prospects to get lost down the road, right. At this point, though, Bates looks and feels like the next big thing. Every time I watch Bates play he brings something new to the table. He can’t stop improving. He hasn’t for the past few months and years. It seems impossible to see his growth as a hooper getting stunted before he turns pro—or after that point, for that matter.
What is most interesting about Emoni Bates is how his age could affect his basketball career. As part of the 2022 class and born in January 2004, Bates is now 16 years old. If Bates walks the common path, he’d be playing college basketball in 2022-23 for a season before declaring for the 2023 NBA draft. If he instead reclassifies and plays college basketball during his would-have-been senior high school season (2021-22), he would still not be able to enter the 2022 NBA draft—he would still be 18 years old by then, and the NBA mandates (as of now) players to be at least 19 years old by the draft’s year.
All of those mathematics might end in a waste of time, though. We all know the NBA blocked the prep-to-pros path a while ago and that the league is working to bring it back. Nothing is set in stone yet, but it looks like the 2022 draft could be the first one to allow high school stars to enter the league straight from there. That, you’re right, would mean Emoni could jump straight from high school after completing his senior year.
Given how things are going lately with high school players skipping college altogether and favoring other avenues (the G League being a prominent one) to the NBA over the NCAA-branded one, it makes sense to think that’d be the case.
Look no further than Zion’s lone year at Duke and the voices that were claiming for him to skip the rest of the season altogether once he got injured early. Darius Garland (a former no. 14 prospect) sat out the 2018-19 season after getting injured and before becoming the fifth pick of the NBA draft. This past year we’ve seen James Wiseman (2019 no. 1 prospect, expected top-5 draft pick) getting kicked out of the NCAA circuit and not worrying about it too much. RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball, also from the 2019 class, are seen as lottery picks (with Ball having chances at being picked first overall) and both of them played in New Zealand this season. From the 2020 class, no. 2 Jalen Green, no.16 Daishen Nix, no. 19 Isaiah Todd, and no. 30 Josh Hall are turning pro and ditching the NCAA.
In which world wouldn’t a so-highly touted prospect such as Emoni Bates spend a year playing college ball if opened a straight path to the best league in the world? Can you imagine LeBron James playing a season for Ohio State while being the best high school player in the country even as a junior? No way.
I, for one, love Bates’ decision of picking an in-state college as his potential destination if he ever enters the NCAA ring. I also praise MSU for keep knocking on Bates’ door since day one and staying there until they got word from him. Not many colleges have recruited Emoni, but they were always there on his ear. Don’t be alarmed by that, though, as it doesn’t mean that Bates isn’t good enough for the Dukes and Kentuckies of this world. What that shows is how even the bluest of blue-bloods don’t think they’ll ever have the chance at landing and putting him on their lineup. And that is reason enough for Michigan State to look for a backup plan.
Congrats to the Spartans on getting the name of the best prospect of the past 20 years attached to their college. Bates might never step into Michigan State’s campus but you definitely scored yourself a win getting his pledge.
That being said, I can’t wait for Bates to become the first prep-to-pro pick and new poster kid of the boys-among-men era that is surely ahead of us—again and once for all.