Unless you’ve been living off of the grid, you’ve heard by now that Emoni Bates — the No. 1 player in the class of 2022 and arguably the highest-touted recruit since LeBron James — announced his verbal commitment to Michigan State in a seemingly impromptu interview on ESPN’s “Sportscenter.”
Bates is a transcended talent whose presence alone automatically would make Michigan State a national championship favorite for the 2022-2023 season (or 2021-2022 season if he reclassifies). So, of course, Michigan State Spartans supporters are ecstatic about what this means for the future of the program. MSU fans and alum have been conditioned for recruiting heartbreaks over the years, and this felt like a vindication for all of the previous misses on big-time prospects during the Tom Izzo era. Quite frankly, we should be excited about this news, no matter what the future holds, but what the future holds for Bates is full of uncertainty.
The problem is that it is no sure thing Bates ever puts on a Spartans uniform. So many MSU fans, while excited, are approaching this situation with caution and we’ve seen a lot of comments since Monday, from both MSU supporters and fans of Michigan/other schools about how Bates likely never comes to Michigan State University. It is true, Bates has a lot of options. In fact, he explicitly stated the following moments before announcing MSU as his school of choice:
“I’m not sure what the future may hold, but as I do know right now I’ll be committing to Michigan State University.”
Bates has a lot of decisions to make. The biggest threat to MSU is the potential rule change to NBA Draft eligibility. The reason why Bates doesn’t have more scholarship offers, or why Michigan State was more or less the only program to consistently recruit Bates and make him a priority is because many in the NCAA circles expected the NBA to change its draft rules — which currently require draft eligible players to be one year removed from high school (or I should say, at least one NBA season needs to be complete since that player’s graduation) and at least 19 year old. Below is the official wording from Article X of the 2005 collective bargaining agreement, when the rule went into place starting with the 2006 NBA Draft).
Article X. Section 1 (b) (i): The player (A) is or will be at least 19 years of age during the calendar year in which the Draft is held, and (B) with respect to a player who is not an international player (defined below), at least one (1) NBA Season has elapsed since the player’s graduation from high school (or, if the player did not graduate from high school, since the graduation of the class with which the player would have graduated had he graduated from high school).
Talks have recently ramped up about once again allowing players to make the jump right from high school to the league, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is a proponent of this. The target date was often said to be either the 2021 or 2022 Draft. However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has recently reported that talks of amending draft eligibility rules have been tabled for now, as the union and NBA seem to be hung up on issues relating to medical reports and physicals from these high school players. Plus, the NBA is currently busy navigating its way through the COVID-19 situation. The draft age conversation might not pick up for a couple of years, and maybe not even until 2025 when the next collective bargaining agreement discussions begin.
Bates was born on Jan. 28, 2004 (wow, us ‘90s babies officially feel old) and is currently 16 years old. So, with the Article X rule as it currently stands, Bates could not possibly enter the NBA Draft until 2023. If Bates ends up reclassifying to the 2021 class, that could potentially mean he is playing in the Breslin Center for two years, which is quite frankly, impossible to imagine, but also quite strongly in the realm of possibility. Perhaps the NBA could also grant him some sort of waiver after playing one year of college basketball, but who knows at this point.
The next hurdle for MSU is the potential for Bates to play in the G-League or overseas. I’ve not heard much of any desire from him at all to go the overseas, but I think what we need to remember here is that Bates is only entering his junior year. A lot can and will change by the time the next academic year is over, and certainly by the time his senior year is over if he stays in high school that long, so it may be too early to rule anything out. Still, overseas doesn’t seem like the likeliest route, and Bates also doesn’t seem to have interest in the G-League at this current juncture. From ESPN:
“It’s good for certain players. That’s a lot of money,” he said. “... I don’t think I’ll do it. It’s good for some people, but I don’t think I’ll head that route.”
Bates added that he would rather play college basketball than go to the G League.
Bates explicitly stated that he prefers to play college basketball over going to the G-League. Also, by the time he is in college the NCAA (or the state of Michigan, or both) may be allowing student-athletes to be paid for their name, likeness and image, so Bates could potentially make a good amount of money off of endorsement deals while playing at Michigan State. Note that if Bates did reclassify, he could not go the G-League route for the 2021-2022 season, as the minimum age requirement is 18.
As mentioned, Bates could also reclassify to the class of 2021. This is something there has been conflicting reports about, but Bates seems undecided on. If he does decide to do this, it is certainly a good sign we actually see Bates wearing green and white. Here is what he told ESPN:
“I don’t plan on reclassifying. I’ll probably play two more years [of high school],” Bates said. “It really depends how this year goes. After this year, it will tell me everything I need to know. I can’t decide on that right now. After this year, if it’s too easy, I might — but if not, I’m probably going to play another year.”
And here is what his father, Elgin, had to say on the matter:
“Anything is possible right now,” Elgin Bates said. “By the end of his junior year, he will be in position to graduate. We don’t know yet. It’s up to him, it’s a day-by-day thing for him. It might be a decision he decides to make later on.”
Bates seems on the fence, but leaning slightly toward staying in high school as of press time. Again, things can and will change between now and then, but according to his dad, Bates will already be in position to graduate by the end of his junior year. While a lot analysts and fans may project him to do this, it is of course, ultimately Bates’ (and his family’s) decision.
In all honesty, it seems to me like Bates wants to play at least one year of college ball based off his recent comments. If you read into some of these quotes, pretty much everything points to him wanting to play for Izzo and be on campus:
“They get all my respect, really,” Emoni Bates said. “I love how they coach, Coach Izzo, I like how they focus on defense more than offense. That’s a big key in basketball, and people don’t understand that. On and off the court, he has passion. He’s just an amazing guy, overall.”
Let’s say it worst-case scenario. Bates doesn’t reclassify into the 2021 class, the NBA changes it rules in time for the 2022 Draft, and Bates never arrives in East Lansing. While this would be extremely unfortunate, at the very least, Bates committing to Michigan State this early in the process is going to be great for the future of the program because other top-level recruits are paying attention to Bates — arguably the most talented basketball prospect in the entire country, regardless of class. MSU is already widely considered as a top-tier basketball program, but has often taken a backseat to the likes of Duke, Kentucky or Kansas in terms of landing the highest-level recruits. Bates’ commitment could change that.
Bates and his father talked about how loyal Izzo, Mike Garland and the rest of the MSU staff is. He talked about how he felt the staff actually cares about him, not only as a player, but as a person. He talked about how the staff values defense and their passion for the game overall. He has said how Michigan State is his “dream school.” Regardless of if he plays college basketball or not, he has pledged to the Spartans and no other school, and that is a huge win for Michigan State in its own right.
So, no what happens in 2021, 2022, or beyond, it’s OK for us to not worry about what may happen then, and be happy about this news in the present. Enjoy the moment, and we’ll see what happens in the future, however, most of the scenarios laid out above seem to be in Michigan State’s favor.