Nick Emery's freshman season at BYU filled with ups, downs, lessons learned
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — BYU guard Nick Emery’s freshman season has been quite an adventure.
There have been times when the former Lone Peak High star has shown flashes of brilliance on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. There have been stretches when he couldn’t buy a basket. And there have been important lessons learned along the way.
No doubt, the fiery freshman has made an immediate impact on the Cougar basketball program.
Emery has recorded seven 20-point games this season and has had three games with five 3-pointers. He has also made 57 3-pointers this season, a school record for a freshman.
Currently, though, he’s suffering through a shooting slump — 13 of 38 on field goals, including 2 of 18 on 3-pointers, in his last three games. His streak of 21 straight games with at least one 3-pointer ended in BYU’s 77-72 loss last Saturday against Pacific, as Emery went 0 of 6 from 3-point range.
In December, Emery was ejected after throwing a punch at Utah’s Brandon Taylor, drawing a flagrant 2 foul for fighting. He was reprimanded by the West Coast Conference, he issued an apology and he was suspended for the next game against Weber State. In January, the incident took center stage again as Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak cited that punch as a reason to justify interrupting the century-old rivalry next season.
Yes, Emery has experienced a little bit of everything as a freshman. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder from Alpine even got engaged in late December.
“There are frustrations and there are ups and downs,” Emery said about his freshman campaign.
Fortunately for Emery, he has his older brother, Jackson — who is BYU’s all-time steals leader and helped the Cougars reach the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 in 2011 — to confide in.
“He went through a lot of things from his freshman year on to his senior year. He paved the path and knows exactly what college basketball is like,” Nick Emery said. “There have been times this season when I’ve kind of lost my head. But he’s helped me to understand that at those times, you need to push through it and not let it affect you and just move on. He and I are exactly alike in everything we do — we show our emotion on the court. He definitely (controlled) it a lot better. That’s what I’m learning. I know I’m not a perfect player at all times. Making progress, step by step, each game, is my goal.”
The toughest transition from high school to college basketball is “the pace and physicality,” Emery said. “The emotion is there and there are cameras on you. I learned that lesson the hard way. It’s a big lesson learned and I’ve moved on from that lesson at Utah. It’s something where you learn how to play through it.”
Despite the bumpy ride Emery has experienced as a freshman, BYU coach Dave Rose relishes how he plays the game.
“Nick is a competitor. Boy, I love him,” he said after the Cougars’ victory last week against Saint Mary’s. “He competes so hard. He’s being guarded like a senior, which shows a lot of respect for a young kid. He’s getting some good experience at a young age.”
Emery is averaging 14.6 points per game, shooting 41 percent from the floor, 35 percent from 3-point territory and 85 percent from the free-throw line. He is second on the team in steals and assists, behind senior Kyle Collinsworth.
Even when he’s struggled, Emery has made positive contributions.
One of Emery’s top moments this season came during BYU’s upset at Gonzaga on Jan. 14. He was only 1 of 6 from the field in that game, but one shot he made was a long 3-pointer with 1:36 remaining that ended up being the game-winner.
Collinsworth encouraged Emery to keep shooting during the game.
“Kyle said, ‘We’re going to need you, big-time, just be ready,’” Emery recalled. “Chase (Fischer) had the ball on the baseline and I came over from the opposite side and knocked down the big shot. Kyle’s a great leader and he said, ‘I told you so. That’s exactly what we needed.’ Your number’s called at different times and when that happens, you’ve got to figure it out.”
In last week's win over Saint Mary’s, Emery hit only one 3-pointer, but it, too, was huge. That shot, with 13 minutes left in the game gave BYU a four-point advantage — a lead the Cougars never relinquished.
One of Emery’s strengths is his active hands on defense and the ability to make steals and score in transition. Against Pepperdine on Jan. 30, Emery had five steals. One steal he’d probably like to forget came early in the Saint Mary’s game, when he stole a pass, raced down court but missed a dunk attempt. Still, he grabbed his own miss and scored anyway.
Emery emphasizes that he’s not looking ahead and that he’s completely focused on helping his team finish this season strong. But when he’s asked about next year, he can’t help but smile.
Soon he will be reunited with his former Lone Peak teammates, Eric Mika and TJ Haws, who are serving missions in Italy and France, respectively.
“Those guys are competitors and I’m a competitor,” Emery said. “It’s going to be fun when they’re back.”
Emery, Mika and Haws led Lone Peak to a high school national championship in 2013. Emery served a mission in Germany before enrolling at BYU while Mika played as a freshman for the Cougars in 2013-14 before leaving on his mission. Haws, the younger brother of the school’s all-time leader scorer, Tyler Haws, left on his mission in 2014 out of high school.
The trio keep in touch via weekly e-mails.
“They’re doing great. Eric’s one of the funniest guys. He has the best sense of humor,” Emery said. “He’s enjoying his mission. TJ’s enjoying the work, too. Being a missionary is fun. I still wish that I could be there sometimes because there’s no stress. You’re enjoying life, you get to talk to people about something you love and focus on one thing. I’m excited for them.”
While Haws is set to return from his mission the end of March, Mika is scheduled to finish just days before Emery gets married on April 30.
In his epmails to Mika, Emery said they share their experiences as freshmen at BYU.
Mika averaged 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and shot nearly 53 percent from the field in his first season as a Cougar.
Both Mika and Emery have had issues with keeping their emotions in check. Mika drew a flagrant 2 foul against center Dallin Bachynski in a game at Utah in 2013 — another incident Krystkowiak pointed to as a reason to put the rivalry on hold.
“I was on my mission during Eric’s freshman year,” Emery said. “Eric went through things his freshman year and now I’m going through it. It’s good to talk about it with him.”
Emery is also glad to be reunited with former Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis, who became an assistant coach under Rose last spring.
“That’s big to have Quincy here. He has been awesome in helping us this year on the defensive end,” Emery said. “Each year, it’s kind of like a puzzle. You figure out what you’re good at and not so good at and the things you can work on for the next season. It’s a process.”
Yes, Emery’s freshman season has been like a puzzle, and a process — anything but smooth. But he’s looking to end the year on a positive note and apply the lessons he’s learned to the future.
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