Home News He Was Billed as the Next LeBron. But Will Emoni Bates Make It at All?

He Was Billed as the Next LeBron. But Will Emoni Bates Make It at All?

by Staff

Bates’s lawyer, Steve Haney, said Bates was returning from getting his hair cut for a photo shoot the next day, and the car he borrowed had a gun in it. “He’s learned to be more aware of decisions that he makes,” Haney said.

It was one of many examples in which the more than 20 people who were interviewed for this article — coaches, teammates, opponents, scouts, N.B.A. executives and agents — explained away Bates’s weight (a fast metabolism), his on-court temperament (he’s learning), his shot selection (better suited to the pro game), his immaturity (he’s like most 19-year-olds) and other clues why Bates is trending toward a cautionary tale.

They may not be wrong.

Still, Bates did not end up here by chance. His father, Elvin James Bates, an Ypsilanti kid himself, has stage-managed every element of his youngest son’s career.

When Emoni Bates was playing for the Lincoln High Railsplitters, a public school team with an otherwise unremarkable basketball history, the team’s run to the Division I state title in his freshman season drew packed houses, which included the state’s basketball glitterati — Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and James Edwards.

“He’s a light to our city,” said Lincoln’s coach, Jesse Davis, who had Bates’s father as an assistant for the two years Emoni Bates played there. “I don’t want to talk bad about Emoni. We all have flaws. It’s just a protection thing. We’re trying to preserve that light that we have. We don’t want to see it go out. We want it to get brighter and brighter.”

After Bates’s sophomore year, his father, who goes by E.J., started a high school, Ypsi Prep Academy, which contracted online classes and rented two homes to house the school’s 12 students — all members of the basketball team. (He had been running a travel ball program, Bates Fundamentals, for years.) Nike and Gatorade invested seed money for a “school” that was conceived so its team could play televised games in big arenas against other top prep schools.

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