Lincoln Phenom Off to Dazzling Debut

December 27, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

When Ypsilanti Lincoln’s boys basketball team faces off against another MHSAA title contender River Rouge on Saturday, it won’t be just another game.  

And, that’s just how Lincoln freshman Emoni Bates likes it.

“He loves the lights, the crowd and playing the game of basketball,” said his father, E.J. Bates. “That’s part of the game. He loves the big stage when the lights are bright. He embraces that.’

So far in his young basketball career, there have been plenty of lights for the 14-year-old Bates. He’s touted by some as the No. 1 ninth-grade basketball player in the nation.

That’s a hefty title to carry, but one Bates is carrying well. While just a month into his high school career, the 6-foot-8 Bates is as calm and collected doing media interviews as he is shooting jump shots and throwing down thunderous dunks.

Lincoln has started the season 5-0, and Bates is the leader of a team that would be good without him but is a threat to win the Southeastern Conference White championship and make a long tournament run with him.

Every gym he’s played at so far this season has welcomed big crowds. Bates is attracting a lot of that attention.

Adrian High School had what Maples athletic director John Roberts called one of the biggest regular-season crowds he’s seen in several years when Lincoln played there on a Friday night earlier this month. Bates was clearly a big reason why. Some Maples students found their way over to Bates before the game to ask for an autograph.

Bates was impressive even in warm-ups, starting off with a big-time whirlwind dunk that got plenty of attention from the crowd.

Once the game started, Bates was equally as impressive. With every touch of the ball, the crowd expected big things from him – and he didn’t disappoint.

“Some of the people in the crowd have never seen me play, so I’m trying to put on a show for those who came out to see me,” the freshman said after the game.

Bates is averaging 28.6 points per game through five contests. He scored 32 in his varsity debut against Ann Arbor Huron in November. He scored 28 against Saline, 23 against Adrian, 32 against Pinckney and 28 against Temperance-Bedford. Lincoln’s only home game so far was the opener.

Bates said the crowd doesn’t faze him, mainly because he’s used to garnering the attention after playing before big crowds during AAU events.

“I just go out there and have fun,” he said. “I’m used to it.”

Bates has been working on his game for years. He emphasizes speed training and just getting better at all aspects of the game. On the floor, he is intent on keeping his teammates involved in the game as well.

“We are building trust,” he said of his teammates.

Lincoln is actually a veteran team. Seniors Tahj Chatman and Amari Frye were first-team all-SEC White selections last year, and senior Jalen Fisher was an honorable mention choice. Chatman has had a great start to this season, averaging in double figures, as is Fisher. The Railsplitters have 10 seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and Bates.

Lincoln head coach Jesse Davis is in his fourth season coaching Lincoln after more than 15 as an assistant at various levels. He coached at Lincoln, Willow Run and Ypsilanti before joining Josh Tropea at Milan. Davis was an assistant at Milan when the Big Reds won the 2014 Class B championship while featuring Division I college talents in Latin Davis and Nick Perkins.

The connection between the player Bates and Davis, and to Washtenaw County and southeast Michigan, runs deep.

E.J. Bates played his first three years of high school basketball at Milan, reaching the 1,000-point milestone before his junior year was over. He finished his high school basketball career at Ann Arbor Pioneer before playing collegiately in Kentucky and professionally in Europe. He and Davis have a friendship that dates back three decades.

Davis said his job is to keep the younger Bates focused on basketball and not worrying about the hype surrounding him and the team.

“He believes in his ability,” Davis said of Bates.

Tropea will have the challenge of facing off against Bates multiple times over the next couple of years, but he’s excited for the chance.

“It will be great for our league,” said Tropea. “He’s the real deal. He’s an incredible talent.”

Saturday, the Railsplitters take on River Rouge in the Washtenaw County Challenge. The event is an example of a growing trend in high school basketball in Michigan – to bring together multiple teams at one venue for a full day of basketball.

Ypsilanti Community is host and will take on Detroit Henry Ford in the last game of the day. The event kicks off at noon with Ann Arbor Huron playing Southfield Arts & Technology. Chelsea plays Parma Western in the second game, Lincoln takes on River Rouge in the third and Ann Arbor Pioneer takes on Wayne Memorial in the fourth game of the day.

The event will feature some of the most talented players and teams in the state, but Bates is sure to be in the spotlight – and not just from fans. Both University of Michigan and Michigan State University are showing interest in him, and college coaches from around the country have Bates on their radars. At the Adrian game, MSU assistant Mike Garland sat in the front row.

E.J. Bates said the attention isn’t getting to his son just yet. But he is monitoring it because, he said, “at the end of the day, he’s still a kid.

“We regulate it, so it doesn’t get too overwhelming for him. Everything is fine. If it gets too out of hand, we’ll sever ties with it. If he needs a break, we’re going to give him one.”

E.J. has coached his son in AAU basketball. This prep season, he’s enjoying watching his son develop his game at the high school level in the same area where he grew up playing.

“I love it,” E.J. Bates said. “I always wanted him to be able to stay at home and play basketball. … First of all, like I always tell everybody, if you are that type of talent and you want to leave a legacy behind, you should leave it at home. You shouldn’t go somewhere you’ll never visit after you graduate, and no one knows you. At home, your family and everybody can be proud of you for doing something for your hometown. It’s giving back to where you came from.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ypsilanti Lincoln’s Emoni Bates brings the ball upcourt during a win over Temperance Bedford this winter. (Middle) Bates after that victory, which was part of his team’s 5-0 start. (Photos by Vanessa Ray.)

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.