Kentucky target Emoni Bates named Gatorade National Player of the Year

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YPSILANTI, Mich. (WKYT) -- In its 35th year of honoring the nation's most elite high school athletes, The Gatorade Company today announced Emoni Bates of Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti, Mich. is the 2019-20 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year – the first sophomore to win the award.

Bates won the prestigious award for his accomplishments on and off the court, joining an impressive group of 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.

The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court, distinguishes Bates as the nation's best high school boys basketball player. A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Bates from more than half a million high school boys basketball players nationwide.

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, 27 committees, 7 ACC school committees, 6 Big 10 school committees and nearly all volunteering with at least two organizations.

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.

"Emoni Bates is the newest generational talent in the high school game," said Paul Biancardi of ESPN Basketball. "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."

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.

Bates has volunteered locally on elementary school literacy outreach campaigns and as a youth basketball coach. He has also donated his time collecting clothes and shoes to give to community churches and groups in need.

He has maintained a B average in the classroom and will begin his junior year of high school this fall.

"The sports world has rightfully pushed pause to address the coronavirus pandemic, which is why we felt it was even more important to recognize and celebrate Emoni," said Gatorade Senior Vice President and General Manager, Brett O'Brien. "He's incredible on and off the court and we look forward to seeing him continue to succeed in his chosen sport and beyond."

Through Gatorade's cause marketing platform "Play it Forward," Bates has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of his choosing. He is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of twelve $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice, which will be announced throughout the year.

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.