PROVO — Nick Emery has been on the brink.
He’s had his hands on the edge of a deep chasm and is pulling himself up and out onto level ground. Basketball is one of his goals, but his journey to make it back as a Division I star is in its infancy. Patience is now his game plan.
This past week Emery joined the rest of BYU’s basketball team as official practice sessions began. He’ll be brought along in a timely but patient manner, melding in with former Lone Peak star TJ Haws and the rest of the guys.
Emery will miss BYU’s first nine games of the 2018-19 season due to allegations of accepting improper benefits.
Jimmer Fredette, who knows the high and low roads of basketball and is best friends with Nick’s older brother Jackson, who was his court mate during his BYU career, has some advice for Nick as he makes his comeback. He knows Nick’s case in detail because of his family association with Jackson.
“I just want Nick to enjoy it. Just enjoy this process,” said Fredette.
“I know he’s been through a rough year or year and a half and that has to be kind of put behind him. It is time for him to enjoy the team, to enjoy BYU the school, enjoy his family and all the things in his future," Fredette said. "He needs to think about things that help him in his future. I hope he has a great year and he can take advantage of the family atmosphere we have at BYU.
"I know if he has fun he will be successful. He just needs to keep the faith and use what this opportunity provides him.”
Emery’s pit has been deep and dark.
A year ago, his AAU coach, current Orem High basketball coach Golden Holt, met Emery for lunch. Nick pointed to a man in a car in the parking lot. “That is a private investigator and he’s waiting for me.”
Holt took a glimpse. He couldn’t believe it. That was Emery’s life.
Emery’s hurdles have been small and large since he left Lone Peak High.
It began when he fell out of a tree and gashed his foot right before his freshman season. Painful rehab followed. Things got difficult when he returned from a church mission early for shoulder surgery. Then there was the well-publicized incident that took place during a game against Utah, an on-court altercation that led to the suspension of the series by Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Emery got married and divorced and the domestic parting was not pretty. He faced an NCAA inquiry into receiving prohibited extra benefits as an athlete. He faced an attack from certain parties to destroy his life. It included assaults on his privacy and personal life. A private investigator stalked him.
All of this tested his faith and he even stopped attending church before humbly returning. He withdrew from school to fix his mind. He put basketball on hold, fought bouts of anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide. He swam in a cauldron of false rumors, innuendo, gossip and the labels that go with it. Now he’s scratching his way back, his feet on the recovery path, a toolbox for repair in his hand, and hoops is just one piece.
Holt said in terms of Nick trying to find his way, the best recipe for anyone is to do something for someone else.
“When he was in the depths of what he was going through I asked him to come and help with the Orem Tigers last year. He came and helped us for three months and it was just after he dropped out of BYU. I knew how much he loved the game and he could help these kids. They loved him and I think it helped him, too.”
In his blog this past May, Emery addressed his thoughts on how he’s dealt with these challenges. It was titled “Outlive: the Stigma.”
“I think of it this way,” Emery wrote. “If God made everything perfect, then what’s the point of life?! Last year at this time, I decided I wasn’t going to go to church anymore. Was I justified and did I have a reason to not go? Of course, I was justified! It makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever how someone would want to tear someone’s life apart that bad in order to justify their own “image.” I had every reason to justify to not go but the only person that was affecting? Me!
“It wasn’t until I accepted that I was letting certain people control my feelings toward God instead of owning and accepting that I make my own decisions. I am in control of how I react, I control who I hang out with, I’m in control of me. I know there are a million reasons out there to justify “a divorce.” I totally get it. I, myself, never fully understood your same question: is God real? I have done everything I possibly can and this is the situation I’ve been given?! It was straight hell because these people were not only going after me, they were going after my loved ones.”
Emery believes the past two years have been his tutor.
He continued, “I can honestly tell you, I wouldn’t take one single thing back with what I went through. Why?! Because it has changed my life. It has changed how I think about people. How I treat people. It has changed the way I react to certain circumstances, it has changed my perspective on life. It has made me a stronger man because I knew I outlived something really hard. It has brought me back to my roots of the simple concepts of the Gospel!”
Emery was geared up for his comeback in late June. But just a day into a skill development session where the NCAA allows coaches to work alongside players for eight weeks, Emery had an appendicitis attack and needed surgery. It knocked him out of basketball for six of the eight-week workout.
“He had prepared for months to come to practice, had a pain in his side and when he got examined, he needed surgery. It put him out until the last week of July. After everything he’d been through, then this,” said BYU assistant coach Quincy Lewis, who knows Nick as well as anyone.
Lewis says Emery’s challenge to make a comeback is part mental, part emotional and part physical at this point because he really has not been involved in team basketball but for fragments here and there for a year. On top of that, he has to readjust academically to college life and studies.
“Even from a physical standpoint, the kid hasn’t played with us since the first part of last November and up leading to now, it has been hit and miss with all he’d been going through,” said Lewis.
“We are trying to take this step by step and not do it all in one shot. It’s small successes. In the summer he had one tough class he really had to get through. This may sound crazy for a normal person but with all he’s been through, for him to get through that class and do well was a real step for him. It’s something else because at Lone Peak you are talking about an almost straight-A student in Nick Emery and now you are almost going back to square one with him, just getting the kid going again.”
Being around his teammates and having been reunited with childhood friend Haws is a support system that is key, according to Lewis. It is as if Emery has walked into a support chamber of flesh and bone that was absent for more than a year.
“It is very important for him to be around the guys on our team," Lewis said. "They are people he knows, they are people he has something in common within basketball and they are good kids who are trying to do the right thing. To have successful people around him three or four hours a day is very important.”
Lewis said Emery has goals he wants to meet by the end of the year but the game plan for Emery has been whittled down to even more basic things for him to focus on.25 comments on this story
“We are not going to miss any classes, not miss any assignments or homework. We are going to be to every workout early and be mentally ready to practice. These are things before this rough stretch that were givens with Nick," Lewis said. "They were ingrained in Nick and he wouldn’t even have to think about it. He just did those things and they were automatic. But now, this thing has taken him to the ground-floor level and we are just building this step by step.
“I tell him we aren’t trying to conquer the world in a couple of weeks. We have time. He will be out for the month of November not playing games. We need to get him back to the player and person we know he is and can be.”