Emoni Bates was the only player absent from the rowdy party the Memphis basketball team hosted inside the FedExForum on Saturday night.
But the freshman winger is expected to join his teammates on Sunday, according to coach Penny Hardaway. What comes after that, however, is anyone’s guess.
“He’ll be back in the fold,” Hardaway said after Memphis’ 88-60 win over UCF. “We’ll see what happens with his back and what he can do. But as soon as he’s ready, we’ll be ready for him.”
The Tigers (12-8, 6-4 AAC) had plenty to celebrate. They were back on the ground for the first time in over a week. They got revenge for a 10-point loss to the Knights, crushing them down the stretch with a 22-7 run in the final 6:35. The roster was as close to full strength as it has been in months.
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But Bates did not show up for the festivities. That’s because he was still in Michigan as Memphis won its third straight game. Earlier this week, the 18-year-old returned to his home country in a bid to have his ailing back examined by a ‘specialist’. This news was coupled with a report from the Bleacher Report which indicated that Bates’ future with the program was in question.
Bates’ father, Elgin, refuted the report, telling The Commercial Appeal that his son had “no intention whatsoever” of leaving Memphis before the end of the season.
Ahead of the whistleblower on Saturday, Elgin Bates told CBS Sports his son had been diagnosed with “biomechanical” issues in his lower back, partially associated with a one-and-a-half-inch growth spurt since October.
Bates, Hardaway said, was given latitude to take the nomination at Michigan due to a newly instituted team policy.
“His back has been hurting him for a while and, you know, we don’t travel guys who don’t play anymore,” Hardaway said. “So when we were going to Cincinnati, instead of staying here, he was going to use that time to go to Michigan.”
Bates has failed to live up to expectations this season. After upgrading to skip his senior year of high school, the former Gatorade National Player of the Year has scored in double figures in five of his first seven games. He’s largely struggled since then, averaging 9.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.5 turnovers in his last nine games. Bates was also sidelined for three games with a finger infection earlier this season.
Elgin Bates told CBS Sports that her son’s lower back problem “can be corrected with treatment.”
It remains to be seen how Bates fits into Hardaway’s already deep rotation if and when he is able to get back on the floor. Shooter Tyler Harris is averaging 15.2 in his last seven games. Winger Josh Minott has 12.6 points per game in his last five games and is also third on the team in rebounds. Landers Nolley II junior shooter, who missed the previous four games with a knee injury, lost eight points, four rebounds and four assists against UCF.
Contact sportswriter Jason Munz at [email protected] or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball: Emoni Bates back on the team on Sunday, says Penny Hardaway