PROVO — It may be an oversimplification of the emotional saga that junior guard Nick Emery and the BYU basketball program have endured over the past 18 months.
But the reality is coach Dave Rose, his staff, his players and the school’s administration supported Emery when he needed it most.
Now, as the Cougars (5-4) find themselves in the throes of a three-game losing streak, they are looking to Emery for help as red-hot Utah State (7-1) visits the Marriott Center.
Having served a nine-game suspension handed down by the NCAA last summer, the embattled former Lone Peak High star is set to make his season debut Wednesday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv). Emery will be playing in his first regular-season game for the Cougars since March 2016.
"There was a time when I didn't really know if this day would come, where he would actually be able to be back and play with us. I'm excited for that," Rose said. “It’s pretty ironic that we’re in a position where we need some help. Hopefully, we don’t put that all on him. I don’t think that Nick is the answer to all of our problems. But hopefully, he’ll be able to help our team. … Our team's in a situation where we need a win."
In the wake of an NCAA investigation looking into Emery accepting improper benefits from a booster, Emery withdrew from school just prior to the 2017-18 season.
“I’ve made some mistakes in my career,” Emery said Tuesday, sitting next to Rose as he fielded questions from reporters.
Now Emery wants to focus on playing basketball again. What are his expectations for Wednesday?
“I just hope we play well. We’re in a three-game slump right now,” Emery said. “Hopefully, I can bring an extra spark. … I’m grateful to be back with the team and hopefully we can get this done (Wednesday).”
USU, led by sharpshooting guard Sam Merrill, is on a roll. “Utah State is playing maybe as well as anyone in the country right now," Rose said.
During his first two seasons at BYU, Emery averaged 14.7 points, scored 1,032 points and knocked down 172 3-pointers.
But Emery is also known for his defensive skills, something the Cougars were lacking in their humbling 113-103 loss at Weber State last Saturday.
“He’s a really good on-ball defender. He’s good in our system. But he’ll need time,” Rose said of Emery. “Things are a little bit different right now than when he played last, two years ago. But he’s been practicing and he has a great attitude. I know the guys are excited to have him back.”
Last month, the NCAA levied harsh sanctions against BYU in regard to the Emery situation, including the possibility of the program having to vacate as many as 47 wins during the two seasons in which he played.
On top of that, Emery has dealt with various off-the-court issues, including a painful divorce. During this tumultuous time, Rose, and the team, has stood by Emery.
“It absolutely means the world. To go through something like that wasn’t easy. We’re all on the journey of life and we’re all dealing with things,” Emery said. “Coach Rose is right at the top. He was there from Day One. He promised me we’d get through this, even though I didn’t think we would. I’m just grateful for my teammates and my coaches, especially coach Rose, for getting me through it.”
Rose said Emery had options to go elsewhere and resume his college career. But Emery told Rose he wanted to return to BYU and finish what he had started.
“He came to me and said, ‘I don’t want to go do something somewhere else and then have to come back here and deal with the fact that I left. I know I made a lot of mistakes. But if you’ll give me an opportunity, I promise you that I’ll make good on it the best I possibly can,’” Rose recalled. “Then you start thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made or other guys on the team have made. It was my decision. I got the support from the administration, but it was my decision.”
For Emery, it’s been a life-changing experience.
“My perspective on life has changed. I’m grateful for the opportunities I have to be back here at BYU," he said. "It’s just about perspective. I’m grateful to wear a BYU jersey again, that number four jersey. Especially be out here with coach, who has given me a second chance, and my teammates who have believed in me every step of the way. I’m grateful, for sure.”27 comments on this story
“It’s awesome to have him back. It’s been two years since I’ve been able to play with him,” guard Zac Seljaas said of Emery. “It will be fun to have him back on the court. Practice has been good with him. It’s all coming back together.”
The timing of Emery’s return coincides with games against a pair of in-state rivals. After Wednesday’s game against the Aggies, the Cougars play Utah Saturday.
“Utah State and Utah are two really emotional games," Rose said. "(Emery’s) going to get thrown right back into the pressure-cooker. We’ll see how he does.”
Utah State (7-1) at BYU (5-4)
Wednesday, 7 p.m. MST
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM