AUGUSTA, Ga. — Emoni Bates and Bronny James squared off for the first time two years ago at a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League event in Indianapolis when Bronny was 14 years old and Emoni 15. Bronny got the win, while Emoni dropped 43 points in front of a packed crowd.
Round 2 took place Wednesday evening with Bates’ team, Bates Fundamental, edging out Strive for Greatness 73-72 at the Nike Peach Jam.
Bronny 1, Emoni 1.
The second meeting had a familiar face coaching on the sideline: LeBron James. Basketball royalty descended upon a city known for hosting the biggest golf tournament in the world, the Masters. The Los Angeles Lakers star has been in town all week at the Peach Jam coaching his son’s team and taking in other games with top prospects like D.J. Wagner, Jalen Duren and Jaden Bradley.
Fans started filling the back gym at the Riverview Park Activities Center 90 minutes before tip-off. Carmelo Anthony and potential top-five NBA draft pick Jonathan Kuminga were sitting courtside. Several NBA scouts were present to get a first look of the two top high school prospects.
“Being at Peach Jam gives us a solid parameter and a benchmark of where these top players are in development, where they’re at physically and which direction they’re going in their game,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports.
The game started off slow. James hit the first shot one minute in, a corner 3-pointer, after nailing six threes the night before and finishing with 21 points. Bates struggled to find any rhythm in the first half, shooting 1-for-8 and scoring just six points.
Bates, who has been called “the next Kevin Durant,” bounced back in the second half, scoring six straight points, chipping away at the 12-point deficit. The game was a back-and-forth battle with Bates Fundamental taking a one-point lead after Bates hit deep back-to-back 3-pointers. After the second made shot, he locked eyes with LeBron James, smiled and shrugged his shoulders. James just shook his head.
Bates finished with 22 points (including four 3-pointers) in the win. Bronny James didn’t shoot as well, finishing with eight points in 22 minutes, but he was one of the most disruptive defenders on the court.
Bronny James at a Nike EYBL event this month. (Courtesy of Jon Lopez/Jon Lopez Creative/Nike)
“Bronny has been a positive surprise,” an NBA scout said. “He’s shown me he’s more than a last name, he can make shots and handle the ball. He’s very even-keeled for someone who’s under the microscope.”
LeBron James remained active on the bench and engaged in timeout huddles for a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for the nine young players on the team.
“It’s just a blessing to have one of the best players to ever play the game sit on the bench,” Strive For Greatness head coach Edward Estavan told Yahoo Sports. “To talk to these kids and coach them, I can already see the impact it’s had on their individual game this week.”
Bates originally committed to Michigan State but decommitted a few months ago. James’ recruitment is unknown, but LeBron James has mentioned he would love his son to play for Mike Krzyzewski so Duke could very well be in the mix, even though this is the Hall of Fame coach’s last season.
Every grassroots event was canceled last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no Peach Jam, NBPA Top 100 Camp or Adidas Nations — all big-time AAU events with great matchups. Limited fans in attendance saw a budding rivalry that will hopefully continue for years to come.
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