Emoni Bates, considered one of the best high school prospects since LeBron James, won the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award on Tuesday, becoming the first sophomore to ever win the award.
Bates, a 6-foot-9 wing with a smooth offensive game and elite shooting ability, is ranked No. 1 in the ESPN 25 for the 2022 class. The Lincoln High (Ypsilanti, Michigan) sophomore is considered the best high school prospect in the country regardless of class.
"It feels good to win the award," Bates told ESPN. "I was really surprised when I got it. It showed me hard work is paying off. It feels really good.
"A lot of people talk, everybody has an opinion, and I appreciate the people that support me. But I really try to keep a level head and stay humble. I still got a long way to go. I just try to stay humble and stay in the gym."
Because he couldn't receive the award in person, Bates was surprised with the honor via tweets from Jayson Tatum and Dwyane Wade.
"He's the real deal," Tatum told ESPN. "He has great size, plays hard. He can score from anywhere. He can shoot, dribble, create for himself. He's got all the tools."
Bates is still far from a decision on his next step, but college basketball might not be part of the process. His high school class could be the first group allowed to skip college and go directly to the NBA since the one-and-done rule was enacted in 2005.
While there are colleges -- primarily Michigan State -- recruiting him, he has his eye on the NBA.
"If I can go straight to the NBA out of high school, it's a go for me," Bates said.
Bates won Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year award as a freshman after leading Lincoln to its first state championship. He averaged 32.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 steals in 2018-19.
As a sophomore, Bates led Lincoln to a 19-3 record and a spot in the District 18 state tournament final against Ann Arbor Huron, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On the grassroots circuit, Bates played for the BATES Fundamentals program and averaged 32.2 points and 10.0 rebounds at last summer's Nike Peach Jam.
Bates, who turned 16 in late January, had arguably the best game of his career on Feb. 18, when he finished with 63 points and 21 rebounds in a double-overtime win over Chelsea.
This is the 35th year Gatorade has given out the award, and Bates is the first player who will have the opportunity to win it three times. James, Greg Oden and Brandon Knight won it two times apiece, while other past winners include Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Alonzo Mourning and Ben Simmons.
James Wiseman won the award in 2018-19.
"It means everything," Tatum said. "It's the biggest award you can win in high school sports. It puts you in such a special group and not only does it acknowledge your talents in basketball, but your efforts in the classroom, the kind of character you have throughout the community. It's a really big deal."