Why is Emoni Bates transferring to Eastern Michigan? Explaining former No. 1 recruit's decision after leaving Memphis

Author Photo
Emoni Bates
Getty Images

Emoni Bates, the former No. 1 player in the country and most high-profile player available in the transfer portal, has announced his next college destination.

The Ypsilanti, Mich., native will play for his hometown team, Eastern Michigan, next season. Bates, the No. 1 player in the 2022 class — before he reclassified to the Class of 2021 and enrolled at Memphis as a 17-year-old — announced the decision to On3.

"I'm coming home," he said.

It is a curious decision on the surface, considering Bates was drawing comparisons to NBA All-Stars and future NBA draft picks during his recruitment. But his decision to return home as opposed to leaving college altogether has its base in local roots and college's burgeoning name, image and likeness (NIL) landscape.

MORE: Why isn't Memphis star Emoni Bates NBA Draft eligible in 2022?

The Sporting News looks at Bates' decision to transfer to Eastern Michigan after leaving Memphis:

Why is Emoni Bates transferring to Eastern Michigan?

Bates did not offer much of an explanation Wednesday as to why he's transferring to Eastern Michigan. He discussed the possibility of playing for the Eagles in a May 2 interview with On3.

People probably look at me crazy because I’m considering Eastern (Michigan). 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.

Eastern Washington is an 18-minute drive from Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti, where Bates became the top-rated player in his class. After reclassifying, he was the No. 5 player in the 2021 class, per 247Sports' Composite rankings.

The opportunity to become a hometown hero isn't the only reason Bates is transferring to Eastern Michigan. In the same May 2 interview with On3, Bates said he valued a positive relationship with his coaches and teammates and, more than anything, he wants to win.

"I look forward to having a bond with my coaches, teammates and staff," Bates told On3. “Being positive and having the mindset of getting better every day. Just help my teammates get better and just build off each other. And I really want to win. That’s the main goal. That’s what I’m looking into for where I go next."

MORE: Emoni Bates shows up at NCAA with Memphis

The Eagles aren't exactly a powerhouse, however. They're coming off a 10-21 season in 2021-22 under first-year coach Stan Heath, and they haven't had a winning season since 2017-18, when they went 22-13.

Neither Heath nor the Eagles' previous three coaches has led the team to an NCAA Tournament berth. The team last made the tournament in 1998, the last time the Eagles were winners of the MAC Tournament.

Why did Emoni Bates transfer from Memphis?

Bates decided to transfer from the Tigers after an up-and-down season in which he averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 18 games. He shot 38.6 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

"I'd like to thank Coach Penny (Hardaway), my teammates, and the entire coaching staff at the University of Memphis for giving me the opportunity to be a Tiger," Bates said April 18 when he announced his decision to transfer (via On3). "Thank you Tiger Nation for embracing me and all of you who supported our team throughout this season. With that being said, I have decided to enter the transfer portal."

Bates missed all of February and half of March with what his father said was a back injury. The Tigers' season ended with an 82-78 to top seed Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville, Michigan, Seton Hall and DePaul were other teams Bates considered as transfer destinations.

MORE: Bates' commitment delivers recruiting success, challenge to Hardaway

Why didn't Emoni Bates enter the NBA Draft?

Bates certainly isn't lacking for talent, even after what could be described as a subpar freshman season in 2021-22. The 6-9, 190-pound forward was considered a Sporting News second-team preseason All-America selection and has drawn favorable scouting reviews at the next level.

But NBA rules state that a player must be at least 19 years old in their draft calendar year; Bates, who was born Jan. 28, 2004, will still be 18 at the end of the 2022 calendar year. Because he won't turn 19 until 2023, he was ineligible for the 2022 NBA Draft.

As for why Bates didn't elect to play in the G League or abroad or simply take the year off to train for the draft, it's possible the advent of NIL deals made returning to college more financially viable.

That's especially true at Eastern Michigan, where Bates could use his status as a local product to secure NIL deals before playing professional basketball.

Author(s)
Author Photo
Zac Al-Khateeb is a content producer for The Sporting News.