PORTLAND – It should be a March Madness feast for NBA scouts and college basketball fans. It should also have a lot to do with the outcome when Gonzaga faces Memphis on Saturday.
At the highest levels of prep and summer basketball, the best players see quite a bit of each other at various all-star games, camps, showcase prep events and top AAU tournaments. Therefore, GU’s Chet Holmgren and Memphis teammates Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates won’t require pregame introductions.
“Played against Jalen at the Nike 100 camp my sophomore summer going into my junior year of AAU,” Holmgren said. “Played against Emoni there, too. And then played against him my senior year as well.
“I haven’t run into them too much, but I’m excited for that matchup.”
Holmgren was the No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class, according to 247sports composite rankings. Bates was No. 1 in the 2022 class when his Ypsi Prep Academy (Michigan) faced Holmgren and Team Sizzle (Minnesota) on ESPN in November 2020.
Team Sizzle won 78-71 as Holmgren made 13 of 18 shots and finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks. Bates scored 36 points on 11-of-22 shooting. In one sequence during a 6-minute YouTube highlight video with nearly 750,000 views, Holmgren swatted Bates in the lane – a foul was called on Holmgren’s teammate – and a few minutes later drilled a 3-pointer over Bates from 24 feet.
“When you’re a competitor like I am, you always want to play against the best,” Holmgren said in an ESPN.com article after the game. “And that’s the best of the best, cream of the crop. He played a great game, but luckily we were able to come out with the win and it’s always a special experience.”
The 6-foot-9, 190-pound Bates eventually reclassified to the 2021 class and was ranked No. 5 by 247sports. The Michigan State commit also chose to play at Memphis with Duren, his former AAU teammate who also reclassified to 2021 and was rated No. 6. Duren, who has an NBA -ready frame at 6-11 and 250 pounds, is projected as a lottery pick.
Bates missed 12 games with a back injury before hitting a 3-pointer in a brief 3-minute appearance in Thursday’s win over Boise State. He averages 9.9 points and 3.4 rebounds. Bates will be on a minutes restriction, but he might see more time Saturday, according to Tigers coach Penny Hardaway.
Duren leads the Tigers in scoring (12.1 points), rebounds (8.2) and blocks (2.1). He had 10 points and 11 boards against BSU. He had 22 points and 19 boards against Western Kentucky and 21 points and 20 rebounds vs. Central Florida. Duren has been the team’s most productive player and a force in the lane.
It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staffs decide on defensive matchups. Duren and Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, coming off a 32-point effort against Georgia State on Thursday, both prefer to operate closer to the basket.
“I’m pretty sure he could be in high school playing or something,” Timme said. “He’s a lottery pick so it’s just a credit to him, the hard work he’s put in. He’s just a talent, obviously, and it’s going to be a fun matchup.”
Holmgren and Tigers 6-9, 205-pound forward Deandre Williams are both comfortable on the perimeter or in the paint. The 7-foot Holmgren has made more 3-pointers (40) than Williams has attempted (27).
Williams is a capable scorer at 11 points per game, second on the team. He missed only one shot in a 14-point effort vs. Boise State.
Williams scored 20 points in a 92-78 victory over Alabama on Dec. 14. Ten days earlier, the Crimson Tide handled GU 91-82 in Seattle.
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