Will Emoni Bates play for Memphis again? Penny Hardaway says the ball is in his court

·3 min read

Have fans seen the last of Emoni Bates in a Memphis uniform?

The freshman has been out of action since Jan. 27 with what's been described by his father, Elgin Bates, and Tigers coach Penny Hardaway as a lower back injury. Bates has missed seven games since traveling to his home state of Michigan in search of a second opinion.

Memphis (17-9, 11-5 AAC) has just two games left in the regular season. After that, it will take part in the AAC Tournament (March 10-13) in Fort Worth, Texas. How things go the next two weeks will determine whether the Tigers go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 or head back to the NIT for the third time in four years.

Will the 6-foot-9 Bates be on the floor for any of it? The official answer is his status is reevaluated daily. But, according to Hardaway, the ball is in Bates' court.

MEMPHIS BASKETBALL: The Tigers are becoming the team Penny Hardaway said he wanted. Here are 3 reasons why

TIGERS KEEP WINNING: Memphis basketball dominates Wichita State, 8th win in last 9 games for Tigers

"Yeah, I'm just waiting on the call from the doc and him," Memphis' fourth-year coach said after Thursday's win over Temple.

Prior to the game, Bates spent more than 30 minutes working through solo drills on the court inside FedExForum. Part of that time was spent merely shooting free throws and 3-pointers. But other segments included activities geared toward coordination. While never ramping things up to full-speed, at times Bates pushed himself to sustain a solid pace.

However, Hardaway was quick to temper any conclusions that one might draw from it.

"Doing 1-on-zero is different from building yourself up (to) getting an actual bump and then hitting the floor," he said.

According to the most recent NCAA Tournament projections, Memphis is squarely on the bubble, making every game critical to their postseason prospects. The Tigers play at South Florida on Thursday (8 p.m., ESPNU) before hosting Houston in the regular-season finale on Sunday (11 a.m., CBS).

Bates averaged 10.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16 games (13 starts) this season, a far cry from the expectations that accompanied him when he arrived at Memphis. The former No. 1 recruit in the nation, who skipped his senior year of high school to sign with the Tigers in August, showed glimpses of the talent that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 15-year-old. But he struggled with consistency and the adjustment to the college game. Bates was also not suited for the point guard position (42 turnovers, 23 assists) and had issues on the defensive end.

While his availability for the remainder of this season is still cloudy, it's also still up in the air whether he will return to Memphis for a second year.

“Whatever decision he makes, it'll be a one-year plan and then he'll re-evaluate everything after the year,” Elgin Bates told Stadium's Jeff Goodman during the summer.

Given what's at stake in the few remaining games, is there a point where it becomes too risky to try to reincorporate Bates back into the lineup? Not according to Hardaway.

"I don't think there's a date too late, if he's ready to play," he said after Sunday's win over Wichita State.

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at jason.munz@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @munzly.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Will Emoni Bates play for Memphis basketball again?