The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former top recruit Emoni Bates will leave Memphis for Eastern Michigan

Emoni Bates, who reclassified from the Class of 2022 to join Penny Hardaway's program last year, is not eligible for the NBA draft until 2023. (Craig Mitchelldyer/AP)

Emoni Bates, a heralded recruit last year for Memphis, said Wednesday that he was transferring to Eastern Michigan.

“I’m coming home,” the 18-year-old forward, a native of Ypsilanti, Mich., told On3. He shared on Instagram an image of himself in an Eagles jersey, as well as footage of himself practicing his moves as a youngster in the city, where the university is located.

“Ypsi what up!!!!!!!!” Bates exclaimed in an Instagram story.

Featured in 2019 on a Sports Illustrated cover — which boldly stated: “Magic, Michael, LeBron … and the 15-year-old who’s next in line” — Bates was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022 before he reclassified into the 2021 class.

Because he doesn’t turn 19 until next year, Bates won’t be eligible for the NBA draft until then. After an injury-marred freshman season with Memphis, he probably could use a stellar 2022-23 campaign with the Eagles to restore his reputation as a top prospect.

At 6-foot-9, with a slender build and both shooting and ballhandling skills, Bates has drawn comparisons with Kevin Durant. But whereas Durant earned 2007 player of the year accolades following his first and only season at Texas, Bates struggled through 16 games at Memphis before being sidelined with a back injury. While he was out, the Tigers jelled and went on a run that got them into the NCAA tournament. Bates rejoined them on the court at that point but was used sparingly in Memphis’s final two games, including a near-upset of Gonzaga, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

Bates ended the season having averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists over 18 games, shooting 38.6 percent overall and 32.9 percent from three-point range.

From March: Penny Hardaway ‘is Memphis.’ Can he bring NCAA glory back to his hometown?

Several weeks later, he announced his decision to enter the transfer portal, thanking Memphis Coach Penny Hardaway, his teammates and others in the program for “giving me the opportunity to be a Tiger.” In May, Bates used social media to share a list of six possible destinations, including Eastern Michigan along with Arkansas, DePaul, Louisville, Michigan and Seton Hall.

“People probably look at me crazy because I’m considering Eastern,” Bates told On3 last month. “But if I went there, I would be like the neighborhood hero. I used to play at Eastern during my high school games when I was at Lincoln, and we used to pack it out every time. That would be crazy for me to be able to bring love to the city.”

Assuming Bates’s transfer to Eastern Michigan is finalized, he will reunite with several players he knows well from high school basketball and youth leagues in the Ypsilanti area.

His impending arrival also represents a coup for second-year coach Stan Heath, whose Eagles posted a 10-21 record last season, including 5-15 in the Mid-American Conference. After head coaching stints at Kent State, Arkansas and South Florida, the 57-year-old Heath spent several seasons coaching in the NBA’s G League before taking over the Eagles’ program last year.