For Nick Emery, this isn’t the way it was supposed to end.
It might have been different.
But it wasn’t. It isn’t.
With a season of eligibility left, he’s retiring from college basketball. That’s the way the Tuesday news release from BYU put it.
It makes it sound as though Emery would be getting an office tribute, a rocker and a gold Rolex — although that might cause an additional uproar, along the lines of the improprieties that, in part, made Emery’s senior season a casualty. That past centered on him and his acceptance of impermissible benefits from boosters getting BYU basketball punished by the NCAA enforcement folks. He took, among other gifts, trips with a friendly booster and the use of a car.
After showing promise as a main contributor for a couple of seasons in Provo, he sat out an entire year, then missed a portion of last season.
His retiring, though, is more complicated than just that. There are whispers that he and BYU’s new coach Mark Pope weren’t exactly a perfect match, that Emery might have been sniffing around, looking for basketball opportunities elsewhere.
It’s not what he had imagined for himself back in headier times at Lone Peak High School, back when he and two other players who also ended up at BYU — Eric Mika and TJ Haws — won a prep national championship.
I remember the first time I met Nick Emery. I showed up at an LP practice where those three teammates were running and shooting their way through a scrimmage, working, sweating, smiling, full of enthusiasm and hope for what basketball would bring in their futures.
They were cocky, too. But only to the extent you’d expect from teenagers who were discovering that they were better at the game they played than 98 percent of other kids who also had big dreams.
Emery was proper stoked. A basketball in his hands looked about as natural as a chick cradled by Mother Goose. He loved the game and the game loved him back.
There were controversies once he got to BYU, mostly stemming from the nightly dance between exuberance and recklessness that surrounded and defined his performances. He shot the ball with abandon. Some thought him an undisciplined ball hog. On one occasion, he cheap-shotted a Ute player, then hurled an expletive at Utah’s coach. It was part of what caused Larry Krystkowiak to call for a cessation of meetings between BYU and Utah, briefly interrupting a century-old rivalry.
Next thing, Emery accepted gifts, suffered personal problems that resulted in a broken marriage, and had to gather himself, not as a basketball player, but as a human being. The indiscretions at BYU might have paled in comparison to indiscretions elsewhere in college basketball, but the fact remained, those indiscretions happened at a self-proclaimed righteous place that disallows men from wearing beards and women from wearing form-fitting clothing.
NCAA violations were … well, almost unbearable.
After that came to light, after Emery sat out, after many of us chastised him, took shots at him, after the NCAA announced its punishments, it became easier, at some point, at some level, to start to root for Nick Emery, to hope that he could put his life and his game back together. People make mistakes, after all, maybe he could learn from his — maybe we all can learn from our own — and find the strength from within to carry on.
He did play for BYU over part of last season, in a limited sort of way.
But it was evident the fire that had once raged in Emery’s game had diminished, had been doused, as had his overall effectiveness. He did not resemble the kid in the gym at Lone Peak all those years ago.
I do not know if Emery ever will play college basketball again, and if he does, where he would play it. But here’s to hoping that he can rebuild the best of a once-promising life, a life that holds promise still, even without a basketball in his hands.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.