Provo • Apologetic, contrite and eager to make amends for the mistakes he has made, embattled BYU guard Nick Emery spoke publicly Tuesday night on the eve of his return to the struggling Cougar basketball team after being forced to sit out the first quarter of the 2018-19 season.
“My perspective on life has changed,” said Emery, who had been required to miss nine games as part of his NCAA reinstatement conditions for receiving impermissible benefits from four BYU boosters. “I am grateful for the opportunity I have to be back here at BYU. I am grateful to wear a BYU jersey again, that No. 4 jersey, and especially to 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 am grateful for sure.”
Coach Dave Rose, who appeared at the post-practice interview session with Emery and asked that all questions to the student-athlete be basketball-related, said it was his decision to allow the junior back in the program. Emery sat out the entire 2017-18 season to deal with personal issues stemming from a divorce. His receiving more than $12,000 of impermissible benefits could force Rose and BYU’s basketball program to vacate 47 wins. The school is appealing the NCAA ruling.
“Nick came to me and said, 'Coach, this is where I want to play, at BYU. I want to live here. I don’t want to do something somewhere else and then have to come back here and deal with the fact that I left. I know I made a mistake, a lot of mistakes, but if you give me an opportunity I know I will make good,’” Rose said. “I got the support of the administration, but it was my decision.”
Emery said his only expectation is to play well if he gets the chance. He knows he quite likely will be derided and heckled by opposing players and their fans the rest of his career, beginning Wednesday night when the 5-4 Cougars host red-hot Utah State (7-1) at the Marriott Center (7 p.m., BYUtv).
“I have made some my mistakes in my career, but that doesn’t change what we do as a team,” Emery said. “It is going to be fun. I understand there is going to be heat at times and whatever fans or players say. But I know who I am and I know that I am here for my teammates, and whatever I can do, even if it takes the pressure off of them, I am willing to do.”
The Cougars’ season, which started reasonably well with a competitive loss at No. 6 Nevada and five double-digit home wins, is suddenly careening in the wrong direction. It needs saving quickly with rival Utah also on this week’s schedule, Saturday at Vivint Smart Home Arena in the Beehive Classic.
Rose said it would be foolish to see Emery as a savior, but acknowledged the irony that Emery’s return corresponds with one of the worst slumps the team has had in his 14 season.
“It is pretty ironic that we need some help, and hopefully we don’t put that all on him,” Rose said. "I don’t think Nick is the answer to all of our problems. But hopefully he will be able to help our team.”
Having gone 4-0 against in-state opponents last year, BYU is in serious jeopardy of going 1-3 within the state this year.
Emery is expected to play for the first time since BYU’s 2016-17 season ended on March 15, 2017, with a 105-89 loss to Texas-Arlington in the NIT. Emery scored 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting in that game.
In his first two seasons (2015-17), Emery averaged 14.7 points and made 172 3-pointers.
“It absolutely means the world to me [to play again]," Emery said. "To go through something like that wasn’t easy, but we are all on the journey of life. We are all dealing with things, and coach Rose is right at the top. He was there from Day 1, and promised me we would get through this even though I didn’t think we would. I am just grateful for my teammates and my coaches, especially coach Rose, for getting me through it.”
Problem is, BYU needs the most help defensively after the 76-62 loss to Houston, the 92-89 overtime loss at Illinois State and the 113-103 loss at Weber State. That’s not exactly Emery’s strong suit, although he should give BYU’s perimeter defense a boost. He averaged 1.5 steals per game as a freshman and sophomore.
The Wildcats spread the Cougars out, then drove past them or kicked the ball out to open 3-point shooters when the defense collapsed.
“We have some issues we have to deal with,” Rose said after Weber State shot 65 percent and scored 66 points in the second half. “It starts with everybody. It starts with our coaching staff figuring out a way to play to be successful. We’ve played three games outside of our building and we’re giving up close to 100 points a game. .. We have to digest this and find a better way to give these guys the best chance to be successful.”
Don’t look now, but Utah State is averaging 85.3 points per game and absolutely destroying opponents, the lone exception being an 87-82 loss to Arizona State in Las Vegas. All seven USU wins have been by more than 17 points, and its average margin of victory is 20.8 points, ranking the Aggies 15th in the nation in that category.
It is USU’s best start since the Aggies opened the 2012-13 season with a 14-1 record. They haven’t defeated BYU since Nov. 11, 2011, a 69-62 win in Logan, and haven’t won in Provo since an 84-62 victory on Dec. 18, 2004.
Also, the Aggies have not defeated BYU in Provo in football and basketball in the same season since 1974-75.
In other words, the time appears right for an Aggie victory.
UTAH STATE AT BYU
At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 5-4, Utah State 7-1
Series history • BYU leads 142-92
Last meeting • BYU 75, USU 66 (Dec. 2, 2017)
About the Aggies • Picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West, they have suffered just one loss, to Arizona State, in new coach Craig Smith’s first year and are 17th in the latest NET rankings. … They have out-rebounded every opponent this season and rank third in the nation in rebounding margin (+13.6). They rank No. 15 in the nation with 43.1 rebounds per game. … Junior G Sam Merrill became the 38th USU player to surpass 1,000 career points by scoring 17 in Saturday’s 89-65 win at UC Irvine. Merrill and BYU’s Zac Seljaas were teammates at Bountiful High.
About the Cougars • They have defeated Utah State in six straight games and are 9-3 against the Aggies under coach Dave Rose. … Jahshire Hardnett went 11 for 15 from the field en route to a career-high 24 points in Saturday’s 113-103 loss at Weber State. Yoeli Childs added a season-high 31 points on 13 of 23 shooting. … Junior G TJ Haws has 1,020 career points and became the 52nd player in BYU history to surpass the 1,000-point mark two games ago against Illinois State. … They are 170th in the NET rankings.