How Emoni Bates’ commitment to Michigan State will help the Spartans even if he never plays for them

With nearly all of the top prospects from the Class of 2020 off the board and the Class of 2021 recruiting cycle in a holding pattern due to a prolonged recruiting dead period amid the cancellation of summer showcase events, Emoni Bates’ commitment to Michigan State injected some life into the college basketball news cycle Monday.

Right now, the 6-foot-8 small forward is the No. 1 player in the Class of 2022 and is considered one of the best prospects since LeBron James. So it could be more than two years before we seem him suit up for the Spartans — if he does at all. And until he does, there will be conversations lingering about the possibility of him heading to the NBA’s G League. But in the meantime, getting a commitment from one of the most-heralded prospects of the last decade is a huge boost for Michigan State, even if the potential on-court dividends are a long way off.

The Spartans were by no means struggling — they tied for the Big Ten’s regular season title in 2020 — but landing a player many are calling the best high school player in the country, regardless of class, is a huge boost for a program that won its last national championship before Bates was born.

Here’s what Monday’s news means for Michigan State:

The Spartans will remain a contender (if he plays)

Duke won the national championship in 2015 with No. 1 overall prospect Jahlil Okafor leading the way, and Kentucky won it all in 2012 with No. 1 overall prospect Anthony Davis as its star.

Assuming Bates does play for Michigan State, he’ll make the Spartans a national title contender. That’s what happens when the No. 1 player in a recruiting class joins a program with a Hall of Fame coach and top-level tradition and resources.

The only impediments to No. 1 prospects realistically competing for national titles over the last decade have been NCAA troubles (James Wiseman at Memphis), a lack of help (Ben Simmons at LSU) and injury (Nerlens Noel at Kentucky). 

Considering that rules will likely be in place allowing for NCAA athletes to benefit from endorsement opportunities by the time Bates would play for Michigan State, he should be able to avoid NCAA eligibility issues. 

He should also have plenty of other talented players around him at Michigan State to help him avoid the frustrations that beset Simmons at LSU. Injury, of course, is a wild card. But barring something disastrous, it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that Bates would bring enough star power to help Tom Izzo compete for his second national championship.

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Re-establishes Spartans as a recruiting power

Until Bates’ commitment, Michigan State’s last five-star recruit was Jaren Jackson Jr., who was ranked No. 8 in the Class of 2017. The Spartans’ 2018 class was ranked 17th nationally and featured three four-star players, the 2019 class was ranked 26th and featured two four-star players and the 2020 class was ranked 45th with two four-star players.

Izzo has been attracting fine players. But the huge recruiting wins had been missing until Monday. Even if Bates, perhaps the highest-ranked recruit in school history (edging out Magic Johnson, who signed with MSU in 1977), ends up circumventing college basketball and finding a path directly to the pros, his faith in Izzo and his staff will have a ripple effect.

In a recruiting world dominated by Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, Bates’ commitment just re-established Michigan State as an elite force, and it should help the Spartans pursue other top players.

Spartans mark their territory

Second-year coach Michigan coach Juwan Howard is proving capable of getting the Wolverines in the mix for truly elite prospects. He’s positioned the Wolverines to challenge Michigan State for in-state recruiting supremacy. But by landing a commitment from Bates, the Spartans are showing they are still one step ahead of their neighbors in recruiting, especially with the top in-state talent.

His commitment comes four and a half years after Josh Jackson spurned Michigan State for Kansas. Jackson was a Detroit native and the No. 1 ranked prospect in the Class of 2016.

Without him, the Spartans struggled to one of their worst records of the Izzo era.

Proves value of continuity

Bates gave a shoutout to Izzo and Michigan State assistant Mike Garland as he announced his commitment to the Spartans.

He said he valued their loyalty to him during the recruiting process and that their relationship dates back to when Bates was in seventh grade. That’s a testament to the continuity on the Michigan State staff.

Garland is in his second stint with the Spartans and has been with the program for 20 years. Associate head coach Dwayne Stephens has been on Izzo’s staff for 16 years. Another associate head coach, Dane Fife, has been with Michigan State for eight years. That collective continuity, and Garland’s longstanding relationship with Bates and his family clearly paid dividends for Michigan State in the recruitment of Bates.

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