BYU guard Nick Emery ready to put past struggles behind him

Junior says he has ‘made amends’ with Utes, apologized for punching Brandon Taylor

BYU guard Nick Emery (4) shoots over Pacific guard Max Tinsley (14) during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 in Provo, Utah. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)

Provo • A lot of newness surrounds the BYU basketball team, which will begin the formal process of moving on without star center Eric Mika on Monday when preseason training camp officially begins.

That newness includes a familiar face — junior guard Nick Emery, who says he is a changed man this fall after a sophomore slump last season followed a sensational freshman year.

“Last year, I wasn’t playing at my potential whatsoever, obviously,” Emery said Thursday as Dave Rose’s 2017-18 squad was introduced to the media. “I am looking forward to all the things I can do better this season. Although we have a lot of guys back, it is a different feel for me personally, and a different feel for these guys. It is just about winning games and doing what we do.”

Coach Dave Rose, who begins his 13th year at the helm, said Emery is part of “the core of our group” that also includes guards TJ Haws and Elijah Bryant and forward Yoeli Childs. Rose said Emery “has been terrific in his improvement” over the summer when coaches were able to work with the team two hours a week.

“I think the most important thing for Nick is confidence,” Rose said. “We need to get him in a position he is comfortable with. He needs to have the ball in his hands a little bit more than he had in his hands last year. Defensively, he needs to be a little bit more focused. Those are all things that have been real trigger points for him in the offseason.”

Emery said some personal issues have caused him to do a lot of growing up since last March when the Cougars were bumped from the WCC Tournament by Saint Mary’s in the semifinals and from the NIT by Texas-Arlington.

“I think I am just ready to play,” he said. “It has been a long offseason and I am just ready to get back at it and play with my guys. It has been a lot of fun. We have a different energy right now, and we just have to keep that consistent.”

Part of that energy comes from the additions of guards Jahshire Hardnett and Kajon Brown from the junior college ranks and Rylan Bergersen from Idaho’s Borah High School by way of a prep school in Missouri, Emery said. Also, the pressure of living up to the hype surrounding the so-called “Lone Peak Three” for Emery and Haws is gone with Mika now playing professionally in Italy.

“We definitely felt that hype, but I think Eric leaving was good for him,” Emery said. “The feel is a lot different this year without Eric. We miss him for sure, but it is going to be a good year and we are going to be a different team offensively as well as defensively.”

As for him being a different Nick Emery, the guard said he has matured a lot since he was ejected from the Utah game on Dec. 2, 2015 as a freshman after throwing a punch at Utes guard Brandon Taylor. The Utes visit BYU on Dec. 16 for the first rivalry meeting since that punch.

“You have got to approach it like any other game,” Emery said, then volunteered the information that he reached out recently to Taylor and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.

“I have made amends with them,” he said. “I have texted coach Krystkowiak this summer, and apologized. That is behind us. Everything is good now.”

Emery said Taylor and Krystkowiak, who used the punch as an excuse to pay his and Utah’s way out of facing the Cougars in 2016, accepted his apology.

“They are awesome,” he said. “Brandon and coach Krystkowiak have been great and it is just about moving forward now. We all make mistakes, but you have to move on. … We will definitely shake hands before the game and after. It is all good now.”