One of the most high profile recruits in the country coming out of high school, Emoni Bates was the No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2022 before reclassifying to the Class of 2021, being ranked third in the nation, and enrolling at Memphis while only 17-years-old.
However, his freshman season under Penny Hardaway didn’t quite go to plan as averaging just 9.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, while shooting a lackluster 39% from the field and battling injuries ultimately led Bates to enter the transfer portal.
While Bates received offers from top power-5 programs including Michigan, Arkansas, Seton Hall, Louisville, and DePaul, on June 29th, the Ypsilanti, Michigan native announced he would be returning home and transferring to Eastern Michigan for his sophomore season.
According to Eastern Michigan head coach Stan Heath, this was a decision Bates made for himself despite national media suggesting a power-5 program could have better prepared him for a professional career.
“It’s not easy for a player of [Bates] magnitude to say ‘Hey, I want to go to Eastern Michigan and not one of the power-5 schools and play in an area I’m comfortable with,’” Heath told The Portal Report in an exclusive interview. “But he did that because that’s what he thought was best for his growth, development, and what he wants to do in his future.”
With possibly the offseason’s most coveted portal recruit now committed to the Eagles, Heath and his staff had amassed an exciting transfer class of local talent including Georgetown’s Jalin Billingsley, Tyson Acuff from Duquesne, and Legend Geeter formerly of Providence.
While the 2022/23 campaign started off strongly for Eastern Michigan with wins over Division II program’s Grand Valley and Wayne State before pushing No. 22 Michigan to the brink with an 88-83 loss, since this in-state matchup it’s been a struggle in Ypsilanti.
The Eagles would follow this up by going 0-2 at the on-campus portion of the Cancun Challenge with losses to Bradley and Oakland and later picking up another two losses to Purdue Fort Wayne and Winthrop in the actual Cancun based games.
Following the Cancun Challenge, Eastern Michigan would return home for a contest with UC San Diego and despite a 17-point, 13-rebound, double-double from Bates, the Tritons would emerge with a 66-63 victory.
Finally, the Eagles would pick up their first Division I win as they traveled to Miami to face-off with Florida International where 26 points and eight rebounds from Bates was enough to defeat the Panthers 80-68.
Another three consecutive losses would await Eastern Michigan as they battled Florida Atlantic, Illinois State, and Niagara to no avail before welcoming Detroit Mercy and Antoine Davis to the George Gervin GameAbove Center.
In spite of a 30-point showing from Davis, a combination of Bates and Acuff was too much to handle for a Titans squad facing similar issues to Eastern Michigan, earning Bates and Co. a tightly contested 79-77 win.
After a short break following the win, inconsistency would keep defining the Eagles play as they traveled to South Carolina and lost 74-64 to a Gamecocks squad that has struggled against mid-major competition and in spite of a career-high 36 points from Bates.
Throughout the last few weeks of the season and into Mid-Atlantic Conference play, the story has remained fairly similar for this Eastern Michigan program with losses to Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Akron, and Kent State while earning just a single win over Central Michigan.
Many expected a major turnaround from EMU this season after finishing just 10-21 in Heath’s first-year at the helm but while Bates has evidently found some success averaging 20 PPG and 5.9 RPG as the nation’s 21st highest scorer, the Eagles can’t seem to right the ship.
Currently, the Eagles sit 4-14 overall and at 1-4 are tied for dead last in the MAC but with such a young and inexperienced mix of players perhaps these struggles could have been better forecasted at the start of this season.
With Bates set to turn 19-years-old next week he’ll be eligible for the 2023 NBA Draft, but if Heath can convince Bates to stay for one more season, Eastern Michigan will have a real chance to improve.
Behind a senior led backcourt with Acuff and Noah Farrakhan, a junior in Billingsley, a redshirt sophomore in Geeter, and Bates entering his junior season, next year’s Eagles team could see the vast turnaround we expected from this program heading into 2022/23.