BYU basketball: Jackson Emery set to break Danny Ainge's steals mark
SALT LAKE CITY — He's BYU's other guard, the one without the hype, headlines or NBA scouts watching his every move.
When the 15th-ranked Cougars open Mountain West Conference play tonight in Las Vegas, it should be Jackson Emery etching his name into BYU's record books.
Emery is on the verge of breaking the all-time steals record set by Danny Ainge 30 years ago.
No one could be happier for Emery than Ainge, now director of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics.
"That's cool," Ainge said earlier this week. "He's one of my favorite players that's come to BYU. ... From the time he came on campus as a freshman, he's been one of my favorite guys to watch because of the effort."
Going into the game against No. 25 UNLV, Emery needs three steals to tie Ainge (195) and four to pass him.
"Jackson's work ethic is a big part of the success that he's had," said coach Dave Rose. "You don't get very many players that play at the same speed everyday in practice that they play in a game, so Jackson practices at a really high level. He's a great anticipator, he's got really good straight forward speed and really good lateral quickness. Probably the most impressive thing is that he'll stick his nose in any play. If there's a charge, he'll jump in there and take it. If it's a play where he's anticipating a pass on the weak side, he'll run through it. And if there's contact or a collision, I think he even likes that a little more.
"He's really, really impressive to watch."
Emery isn't even starting these days, forced to come off the bench because a stress reaction injury to his right shin often keeps him from practicing.
"Whether he's starting or just playing, as long as he's contributing it's not going to be an issue for him," BYU trainer Robert Ramos said. "He's not a kid who needs the limelight or the publicity and all that. He's a kid that's just going to get it done."
Most college basketball fans have heard of Jimmer Fredette, BYU's bona fide star who earned preseason All-America honors and likely will be a first-round NBA Draft pick in June.
Emery likewise harbors pro aspirations, but acknowledges he might have to go overseas to pursue them.
That he is in a BYU uniform is testament to Emery's commitment and determination.
He was recruited by then-BYU coach Steve Cleveland, only to have Rose take over the program in 2005.
"My heart was set on going to BYU," said Emery, a prep star at Lone Peak High in Provo. "But there were a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainties at the time."
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard had been recruited by Princeton, Air Force and all the Utah schools, but Emery ended up keeping his commitment to BYU, which had won only nine games the previous season. Unlike Ainge, he wouldn't start his freshman year. Instead, he was an energy guy off the bench, averaging 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds a game.
He broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore, nearly tripling his scoring average and recording 47 steals.
Then he went on a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission to Leon, Mexico, where his routine included 6:30 a.m. wake-up calls and 12-hour days proselytizing.
"Obviously, when you take two years off from anything, you're going to be a little rusty," Emery said. "But when you have natural ability, I think it comes back to you no matter what. And I think more than anything, the mission helped me mature, which carries over to the floor. The work ethic carried over."
Emery also got married 21/2 years ago to his high school sweetheart, a move that taught him how to work with others even better.
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