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Emoni Bates scores 63 points and grabs 21 rebounds in Ypsilanti Lincoln’s double-overtime 108-102 win over Chelsea on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.

Detroit Free Press

Ten years ago, Tom Izzo waited to hear from LeBron James.

The call never came.

Izzo turned down a chance to jump to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and instead remained at Michigan State. Less than a month later, James announced on ESPN he would be taking his talents to Miami.

It turned out to be the right move for Izzo.

[ 25 years of ‘Mr. March’: Preorder our updated Tom Izzo book today! ]

And on Monday, he finally landed his generational talent in Emoni Bates.

Now, he must wait to see when – and if – that union can happen. And if it does, there is a chance Izzo could have the budding superstar for two years, and not one.

Bates’ stunning midday announcement to commit to MSU could eventually be “The Decision” for the Spartans. In two years at Ypsilanti Lincoln, the athletic 6-foot-9 forward has become one of the most heralded high school prospects in the country, perhaps since James skipped college for the NBA nearly two decades ago.

“I’m not sure what the future may hold,” Bates said as he and family members hoisted Spartan hats to their heads, “but as I do know right now, I will be committing to Michigan State University.”

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Road ahead

Bates is Izzo’s first commitment for the 2022 class. But a lot can transpire between now and then that will weigh on his decision to head to MSU or go elsewhere.

He could even stick around East Lansing for two years.

• The most interesting possibility is Bates could reclassify and forego his senior season in high school to enter college a year early, and join guard Pierre Brooks II as part of the Spartans’ 2021 class. Both Bates and his father, Elgin, told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello they have not made any decision; however, Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg reported Monday that Bates will indeed reclassify. “After this year it will tell me everything I need to know,” Bates told ESPN. “I can’t decide on that right now. After this year, if it’s too easy, I might – but if not, I’m probably going to play another year.”

His father, who is creating his own prep school, Ypsilanti Prep Aim High, told ESPN: “By the end of his junior year, he will be in position to graduate. We don’t know yet. It’s up to him, it’s a day-by-day thing for him. It might be a decision he decides to make later on.”

[ Windsor: Emoni Bates is a monumental win for MSU, even if he never plays ]

• Bates’ birthday makes any decision to reclassify more about going to college early, not about turning pro.

Experts believed as recently as last year the league would lower its age limit for the draft from 19 to 18 (currently a player must turn 19 during the draft’s calendar year and be one year removed from high school). It has been a hot topic in college and the NBA for the latter part of the 2010s, and many felt Bates would become the first beneficiary of a potential rules change after he turns 18 in 2022.

However, talks about eliminating the “one-and-done” rule went from seemingly a done deal in early 2019 to an impasse during ongoing labor negotiations this winter. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski in April reported the rules change may not be on the table until 2025 at the earliest now as part of the next collective bargaining agreement.

Bates was born Jan. 28, 2004, meaning he cannot enter the NBA draft until 2023 after he turns 19. Even if he reclassifies, he would not be eligible for the 2022 draft, which could allow him to stay at MSU for two seasons.

• Bates also would not meet the G League’s minimum age requirement of 18 for the 2021-22 season, and would not be eligible for the NBA’s development system draft until the 2022-23 season.

He could opt to not reclassify, play his final two years of high school at his father’s newly created Ypsilanti Prep Academy and then enter the G League. Or Bates could reclassify, play one year at MSU and then test the G League. The G League recently began pulling some high-end players away from colleges – including No. 1 2020 prospect Jalen Greens and former Michigan commit Isaiah Todd – with a boost of $500,000 salaries.

However, Bates told ESPN he would prefer to play college basketball.

“It’s good for certain players. That’s a lot of money,” he said. “I don’t really plan on, I don’t think I’ll do it. It’s good for some people, but I don’t think I’ll head that route.”

• Discussions are urgent and ongoing across the country within the NCAA, state and federal legislatures about athletes being able to financially capitalize on their names, images and likenesses. And a megahyped star on the rise like Bates would be a major test case of a college athlete’s peak value for endorsements.

In May, the Michigan House of Representatives with a 94-13 vote approved a bipartisan plan to allow college athletes to earn compensation on their likeness. Many of those guidelines would take effect before the end of 2022 if the state Senate approves the bill, which would give Bates a chance to financially capitalize on his status as one of the game’s best prospects.

Those laws and rules also could be expedited as a growing number of states are enacting legislation that allow athletes to begin to exert their name, image and likeness rights as soon as next summer.

• Bates could follow the overseas route LaMelo Ball and a handful of other top prospects have taken until becoming eligible for the draft, and earn a sizeable paycheck. It would not expedite Bates’ path to the NBA because of his birthday.

And that also seems like the least likely option given Bates’ strong feelings for Izzo and MSU’s coaching staff.

“I want to say thanks to coach Iz and (assistant coach Mike Garland) for staying with me since I was younger and being there through the process,” Bates said on ESPN. “They’ve been showing love to me since I was in seventh grade, they’ve been recruiting me hard since then. I just know they’re showing that their love is genuine, and they’ve just been there for a long time.

“I’m big on loyalty, and they showed me all the loyalty.”

Coup for two?

Izzo could be rewarded for that persistence – potentially for two years — if Bates doesn’t turn pro.

MSU’s coaches cannot talk about recruits until they sign a letter of intent. But there is no need to when that player is the consensus No. 1 in his class and considered among the best prospects this century.

Bates’ announcement is as big as when Magic Johnson said after winning the 1977 state championship as a senior at Lansing Everett that, “Next year, I will be attending Michigan State University.” That announcement gave Izzo’s mentor, Jud Heathcote, the key piece for the Spartans’ first national championship in 1979, and Johnson left for the NBA after his second season at MSU.

Izzo has had his share of big-time recruits, with Mateen Cleaves’ decision in 1996 the building block for the Spartans’ 2000 national championship. In recent years, Miles Bridges in 2016 and Jaren Jackson Jr. a year later became the Hall of Fame coach’s highest-rated recruits, along with Kelvin Torbert in 2001.

But none compare to Bates, who has been touted as the nation’s best in his age group – and then some – since he was throwing down dunks as a lanky seventh grader.

One of his earliest suitors was Izzo, who spent any chance he could driving to see Lincoln play the past two years. Bates was a frequent visitor to MSU and befriended a number of the Spartans, and Izzo reportedly was the only college coach to contact him at midnight on June 15 – the first moment he could talk to players who finished their sophomore season.

And those years and that late-night phone call paid off at 1:48 p.m. Monday, when Bates beamed as he put on the white hat with the green Spartan logo.

This was not Chris Webber or Jabari Parker, the two players who got away from Izzo that still he regrets. Forget about LeBron, who he admittedly would have loved to coach.

Bates could be Izzo’s Magic and help win him a second national title in the twilight of his coaching career. And maybe, like Magic, he’ll even have two years to do it.

That’s if Izzo’s biggest dream becomes a reality.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.