There is a first time for everything, the basketball world learned today.
LeBron James won the Gatorade Player of the Year award twice, as did Brandon Knight and Greg Oden. But never as a high school sophomore.
So special congratulations are in order for Emoni Bates of Ypsilanti, Mich., who on Tuesday was named the 35th winner of the prestigious award given to the top high school basketball player in the country.
The 6-foot-9, 180-pound sophomore forward led the Railsplitters to a 19-3 record, appearing in 21 of the 22 games. He also led the team to a berth in the Division 1, District 18 tournament semifinals at the time of his selection.
The state’s returning Gatorade Player of the Year, Bates averaged 32.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game and was named the 2019 Ann Arbor News Player of the Year. He was also the 2019 MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year.
Bates was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit among all high-school-age players by ESPN.com and entered the district semifinals with 1,343 points in his prep basketball career.
“Emoni Bates is the newest generational talent in the high school game,” said Paul Biancardi of ESPN. “As a 6-foot-9 sophomore, he owns a slender frame with terrific length thanks to a 7-1 wingspan. His elite ball skills have a profound influence and impact on the game. His ability as a shooter, including his capacity to make contested shots, makes him unique.
“His gifts off the bounce, his court vision and his fast-developing basketball IQ stand out as well. A key separating trait at this early age is his ‘alpha-dog’ mentality. When his time comes for the NBA draft, we project him as the No. 1 pick.”
Competition for the national award was fierce. Bates topped the list of 51 state winners in boys basketball who collectively boast an incredible list of accomplishments, including 10 McDonald’s All-American Game selections, 26 All-State ALL, 27 committees, 7 ACC school committees, 6 Big 10 school committees and nearly all volunteering with at least two organizations.
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Bates is now a finalist for the most prestigious award in high school sports, the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award, which is announced in July.
Each year a selection committee evaluates the nation’s top talent in the District of Columbia and all 50 states, choosing national winners in 12 different sports: football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls track and field. From the 12 national winners, one male and one female athlete are each named Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year.
Since the program’s inception in 1985, Gatorade Player of the Year award recipients have won hundreds of professional and college championships, and many have also turned into pillars in their communities, becoming coaches, business owners and educators.
Previous winners include a distinguished list of athletes, such as Peyton Manning, Abby Wambach, Karl-Anthony Towns, Derek Jeter.
Former Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year winners who have combined for five NBA MVPs awards, 69 All-Star appearances, and 26 became NBA first round draft picks.
Historically, Gatorade National Players of the Year are surprised in person surrounded by their family, friends, teammates and coaches. Due to the ongoing situation with the Coronavirus pandemic, Gatorade surprised Bates digitally via a wave of tweets from multiple professional athletes, including Jayson Tatum and Dwyane Wade.