EAST LANSING — Ypsilanti Lincoln guard Jalen Fisher breaks loose on a fast break with 6-feet-8 Emoni Bates trailing.
Fisher tosses the ball off the backboard and Bates rises to catch the ball and in the same motion, slams it through the basket for a thundering dunk.
“I told him to throw the ball off the backboard,” Bates said.
If they’re smart, the Lincoln players do exactly what Bates says because this kid is special.
But there is one thing you need to keep telling yourself when you watch Bates play:
He is only a 15-year-old freshman.
Think about that for a minute.
Please name a single freshman in the history of Michigan high school basketball capable of scoring 31 points and pulling down 14 rebounds in a Division 1 state semifinal game. And they had to be capable of dominating the game the way Bates did it, from the perimeter and inside.
You can take all the time you want but you won’t be able to come up with anyone.
That is exactly what Bates did Friday when he led Lincoln to a 72-56 victory over Howell before 9,122 fans in the Breslin Center.
The Railsplitters finshed their unlikely run through the state tournament Saturday with a win over No. 1 ranked U-D Jesuit.
Kids are kids and the thought of a freshman joining a team with five returning starters and taking over could be a recipe for disaster.
But the other Lincoln players are smart enough to know Bates is a freshman only in terms of his age and class schedule.
“Tahj (Chatman) and I have been doing the dirty work for four years,” said senior Amari Fry. “To bring in somebody like Emoni to help us finish what we started helps a lot.”
Bates didn’t guarantee his teammates a state championship when he decided to enroll at Lincoln, but he did tell them not to make any vacation plans for March.
“I expected it,” Bates said. “My teammates, I told them if we keep working hard every day, we’ll be here. I trust in them. I trust in my teammates and they trust me. That’s how we got here today.”
It didn’t hurt that Bates set the tone for the season early when he lit up crosstown rival Ypsilanti High for 43 points when he was only 14-years-old.
For the season Bates is averaging 29.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
He set the tone against Howell with a 3-point bomb well beyond the arc and followed with a traditional three-point play early in the game.
Leading by 13 entering the fourth quarter, Bates scored 12 points in the first four minutes to guarantee a spot in Saturday’s final.
He hit 11 of 20 shots, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range and all five of his free-throw attempts.
“My team entrusted me to knock down shots,” Bates said. “We all came out hard and in the third and fourth quarter we raised the game up.’”
Howell’s Josh Palo knew he would be defending Bates and the Highlanders thought they had a game plan to stop him.
Planning for something is one thing, but actually pulling it off is another matter as Palo and his teammates learned the hard way.
“I was definitely looking forward to guarding him,” he said. “He was making tough shots. Our game plan was to make him take tough shots and he was knocking them down. He was just shooting over my head; I couldn’t do anything about it.”
No one’s been able to do much about it.
And in the championship game, Bates finished with 23 points. Lincoln won on a Fisher buzzer beater.