COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Emoni Bates stands on the sideline of the U.S. Olympic Training Facility behind a wall of recorders and cameras just after the morning session at the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp.
He’s reserved and serene as he gives short, to-the-point answers to the crowd of reporters. Then one question seems to stump him for a split-second.
By 2022, you may have the chance to go straight to the NBA after your senior year; is that something you’re considering?
“Uh… That would be a blessing,” Bates said. “But I wouldn’t rush it.”
Bates has never even played a second of high school basketball. Such is the life of a 14-year-old widely regarded as the No. 1 player in what most recruiting experts agree is shaping up to be a special class.
Overwhelming for a kid three years shy of getting into R-rated movies alone? Nah.
“Nothing really overwhelms me,” Bates said. “It’s good to get attention and things like that, but I don’t pay too much attention to it. I just focus on what I have to do on the court.”
Bates parlayed that tunnel vision mindset into a dominant showing while playing with the top players in his class and the 2021 class at USA Minicamp.
On a court full off elite young prospects, Bates’ energy helped him stand out as he efficiently knocked down threes and threw down dunks during scrimmages.
“I’m having fun out here,” Bates said. “I just like to keep everyone else hyped up and that keeps me hype too. It feels great to be able to wear that USA jersey. This is gonna give me so much confidence headed into the high school.”
Bates will suit up for his inaugural high school season at Lincoln (Ypsilanti, Mich.). He sat out during his eighth-grade year at Clague Middle School (Ann Arbor, Mich.) after averaging 46 points a game the previous year.
“We wanted to keep him challenged and progressing,” Emoni’s father E.J. Bates said. “So we just took the year to work on his individual game and to get better.”
This summer, Emoni was dominant while running with Bates Fundamentals (Mich.), and, despite playing up in the 15U division on the toughest circuit of the summer (the Nike EYBL), he averaged 17 points a game.
Emoni already has a scholarship offer from DePaul, and Kentucky, Michigan and Michigan State have shown interest.
“The biggest thing for me is for Emoni to have fun,” E.J. said. “I always tell him never to try and live up to the expectations of others; live up to your own and have fun. Kids get caught up in trying to be what people want them to be and it almost always hurts them.”
It certainly doesn’t lessen expectations when he’s already drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant because he’s a 6-foot-8, 175-pound wing with a propensity to knock down perimeter jump shots.
“We’re both skinny and lanky and we can both score the ball,” said Emoni, who added that he also patterns his game after Jayson Tatum and Miles Bridges. “We have a lot of similarities.”
To keep his son grounded, E.J. requires Emoni to maintain 3.2-3.4 GPA and finish all household chores before he can leave the house to work out or play ball.
“My dad keeps it real with me,” Emoni said. “He always tells me what I need to work on and how I can get better. A lot of times it’s tough love, but it’s making me in to the player that I want to be. My mom is my rock. I have great support and I need that.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY