Kelvin Bates, Jr. doesn’t shy away from showing his emotions on or off the basketball court.
His father witnessed such a trend firsthand about three years ago.
At the time, his son was preparing for his freshman season at Arlington High and was participating in a summer hoops camp along with his new teammates. The Tigers had just played a scrimmage.
They were, in fact, dealt a lopsided defeat, one that according to Bates’ father, didn’t sit too well with his son.
“I remember I was late arriving to the camp and K. J. was crying,” Bates, Sr. told MemphiSport. “He just collapsed on me. It was a culture where people were okay with losing. My thing was I didn’t even want him to get accustomed to losing. So he had to step it up, man up, and be the leader for that program.”
Three years removed from what essentially was a defining moment, of sorts, to what has evolved into a stellar prep basketball career for his son, it’s safe to assume Arlington has erased the memory of years of futility, in large part because Bates, Jr. was determined to help restore the basketball program back to relevancy.
Never mind that this hoops prodigy, who has put his skills on display against several of the finest, most sought-after prospects in the country in recent years, could have bolted Arlington years ago and taken his talents to a team that was accustomed to winning and vying for state championships. Never mind that this kid who, even as an unproven freshman three years ago, had to quickly connect with his identity off the court, an attribute that ultimately prompted his teammates to have some newfound respect for him.
“That was a confidence booster,” Bates, Jr. said. “I had to come into a situation at Arlington where they needed some help. They were basically building the program. We had eight seniors that year. They should have been the ones leading. But I had to come in and keep them focused. We were basically like a family, so I got my respect from them that way.”
Today, Bates, Jr. has more than earned the respect of his teammates. To his credit, he’s essentially become the face of an Arlington basketball team that boasts lofty aspirations of capturing that elusive Class AAA crown. The 6-foot-2 swingman not only was the leading scorer among Shelby-Metro newcomers in his first season for the Tigers, but he is currently the school’s all-time leading scorer, a feat he accomplished last year.
So efficient was his junior campaign that Bates, Jr. not only held his own against several of the nation’s premiere prospects — most notably former Chicago Simeon High and current Duke star Jabari Parker — but the Brookhaven, Miss. native appears well on his way to fulfilling his dream of earning a full-fledge athletic scholarship.
Currently, Bates, Jr. has official offers from Southeast Missouri State, Middle Tennessee State, and Abilene Christian University in Texas. In addition, he has garnered letters of interest from Florida Gulf Coast, Lipscomb University, Murray State, Tennessee-Martin, and Murray State, among others, although he hinted that Southeast Missouri State is the likely frontrunner.
“Southeast has really been in contact, with me the most,” Bates, Jr. said.
In assessing how much he’s flourished as a basketball player, Bates, Jr.’s family describes him as a “miracle child” who had to overcome an array of obstacles, particularly upon his birth.
Bates, Jr. was born six weeks prematurely at five pounds and ounce — his weight plummeted to four pounds and seven ounces within hours after his birth — a procedure that ultimately caused his life to hang in the balance. That’s because he endured a number of potentially life-threatening challenges, including lungs that doctors said weren’t fully developed.
“(Doctors) said he wasn’t going to live or he’d have all sorts of challenges,” said his mother, Monica Bates. “I’ve seen this handle adversity probably in ways where I would have given up. He’s never wavered. I’m proud and honored that he’s our son. K. J. has that uncanny ability to just love people.”
And to his credit, the Arlington community seems to have embraced and developed a fond admiration for Bates, the once soft-spoken kid who doesn’t shy away from the notion that he must continue to be a vocal presence on and off the court. Fortunately for the Tigers, they have developed a winning mentality, in large part because their featured player has demonstrated the keen ability to be a vocal inspiration, something the program hasn’t enjoyed in some time before he landed on campus three years ago.
“If it was up to his dad and me, we would have pulled him out of Arlington,” Monica Bates said.
As Bates, Jr. tells it, although he had numerous opportunities to go elsewhere to showcase his basketball skills, he believes Arlington was the suitable place for him long before the Tigers returned to relevancy.
“I don’t believe in stacking the best players up at one school,” he said. “I don’t feel like anybody in the area can identify with me in that aspect. I might not be as strong mentally had I gone to other schools that tried to get me to come to their place. I’ve matured a lot as a young man and as a player.”
Among the reasons is that he doesn’t shy away from showing his emotions on or off the basketball court.