“This is special for me, but it’s not just about me. My teammates are what’s gotten me to this point, from my freshman year to now they’ve made me a better player. But this is something that I’ve really put in the work to accomplish and I’m just glad that I’ve made it."
There’s been a lot of boxes checked for AJ Bates over his four-year varsity career at Seven Lakes.
Back-to-back district MVP’s, back to back district championships, an undefeated district championship, Seven Lakes all-time leading scorer, those are just some of the accomplishments that Bates has achieved so far in his career. But one he has been chasing for a long time has been to join a club no Spartan has ever reached, by scoring 2,000 points in his career.
It’s a milestone Bates has been chasing all season and nearly got earlier this week when he had a 36 point performance in a win over Mayde Creek, but he saved it for an even more important game, reaching that point during a critical point during the Spartans 81-67 win over Morton Ranch on Saturday.
“This is special for me, but it’s not just about me,” Bates said. “My teammates are what’s gotten me to this point, from my freshman year to now they’ve made me a better man and a better player. But this is something that I’ve really put in the work to accomplish and I’m just glad that I’ve made it, it’s really special.”
The moment for Bates came early in the third quarter when Bates got free after a pump fake and put up a floater from the free throw line. Those points along with every point was badly needed in what had been a very close game through the first half. But that’s what Bates has done his entire career, come up with tough points when the Spartans needed it and that floater started a big run that helped Seven Lakes pull away for the win in the second half as the Spartans were able to celebrate both the win and Bates reaching such a big milestone.
“Good things happen to good people and career milestones come when you put in the hard work,” said Seven Lakes head coach Shannon Heston. “When you look at the greatest players at the highest level, their work effort is legendary. Even here, every district MVP from Katy ISD put in extra hours in and it just sets the tone for every person who comes through these schools. It’s not an accident that the kids who are determined to get work in improve. That’s what separates great from good. It’s been so fun to watch him grow into the man he is.”
The Spartans and Warriors went punch for punch in the first half, as Bates had a slow start but Nasir Price, Brett Norton and Isaiah Santos stepping up to lead Seven Lakes. Bates turned it on in the third quarter, scoring 11 points and making plays on defense as the Spartans pulled away with the game eventually turning into a blowout in the fourth.
“We turned defense into offense in the third quarter,” Bates said. “I didn’t do as good of that in the first half but in that third quarter we were so engaged defensively and it got us easy buckets. It helped us come out with a the win and that’s the important thing.”
This has been Bates’ strongest season yet. He is playing within himself both with and without the ball and is on a team where a number of players can create their own shot. The senior is averaging 22 points per game and has helped lead the Spartans to a No. 9 ranking in the state and so far an unbeaten run throughout district.
“AJ is the head of the snake for us, he’s the lead guy and if he gets going it’s always great for us,” Heston said. “But the great thing about his group is that other guys get it going as well and it makes AJ even more dangerous and that’s a really cool thing.”
This milestone hasn’t satisfied Bates though and he knows there is more to do in his final high school season. Firstly, he is determined to become Seven Lakes all time assist leader, a mark he is inching towards every game, and he wants to keep the Spartans 32 game district win streak going through the end of the season. But there’s bigger goals as well. Getting a second straight undefeated district championship is the first of those, then get back to regional tournament, and the biggest one for both Bates and the Spartans is to find a way to get to San Antonio and the state tournament.
“We have big goals but or us we have to focus game to game,” Bates said. “We can’t think too far ahead or worry about the future, but we can focus on beating every opponent ahead of us. There’s things still to work on, our defensive communication, those types of things. We have to keep improving and staying in the here and now.”
Seven Lakes 81, Jordan 67
Points: (SL) Nasir Price 22, AJ Bates 20, Isaiah Santos 19, Brett Norton 15, Christian Follis 3, Tillman Jaramillo 2; (J) Elijah Black 21, Rayan Fadika 19, Jaden Holt 13, Jude Oluokun 7, Jacob Oluokun 4;
Halftime: Seven Lakes 37, Jordan 35; 3-Pointers: (SL) Price 4, Norton 2, Bates, Follis; (J) Black 2, Rayan Fadika 2, Holt; Records: (SL) 29-2, 12-0; (J) 22-8, 7-5