SALT LAKE CITY — Three years ago, as a freshman, Nick Emery poured in 37 points in 33 minutes to lead BYU to an easy win over the University of San Francisco at Memorial Gymnasium.
Last week, as a junior, Emery clanked all four of his shots and went scoreless in 13 minutes of play during BYU’s embarrassing loss to the San Francisco Dons in the same venue.
Yes, this USF team is substantially better than the group that the sharpshooting guard torched in 2016. But this has nothing to do with the improving West Coast Conference program.
This is all about Emery and the sad story the state of his college career has become. Without a doubt, his promising start has bottomed out.
After a stellar high school career at Lone Peak High, complete with state championships and impressive national rankings, Emery made a smooth transition to college basketball. Playing 31 minutes a game, he averaged 16.3 points per game.
He followed it up with a decent sophomore season, averaging 13.1 points per game and turned into an aggressive perimeter defender. In an unfortunate twist, Emery has not been the same player since.
In two of BYU’s last three games, Emery did not score a single point. He bottomed out in the 19-point loss to the Dons in which they shot 63 percent from the field.
“He is tentative there. You can see that,” former BYU coach Steve Cleveland said in his weekly interview on The Zone Sports Network.
Emery’s confidence is likely at an all-time low, a surprising development for a player who often played with emotion that bordered on cockiness. It looks now as if he is afraid of making a mistake or missing a shot.
To his credit, Emery plays hard during whatever time he gets on the court.
“I think Nick is giving a great effort," BYU coach Dave Rose said after the USF loss. "He is giving our team a real lift with his effort. Now it is a matter of him fitting as far as execution is concerned."
While it is far from the truth to entirely blame Emery for BYU’s disappointing 12-9 season, the Cougars desperately could use his scoring ability. Unless there is significant improvement, BYU is headed for its worst season in Rose’s 14 years as the head coach.
Cleveland, who hired Rose as his top assistant at BYU in 1997, wonders if Emery might benefit from a different role on the team. After starting his first two seasons, the junior has come off the bench this year.
“I just would like to maybe see him start a game and get into the flow of things and take some shots and not worry,” Cleveland said. “There may be a time here real soon that you start Nick and you just live with it."
Obviously, as has been played out in public fashion, Emery’s issues extend deeper than a few missed shots. Real-life problems may have thwarted an excellent college basketball experience.
Over the last two years, Emery sat out an entire season and withdrew from school as he grappled with personal issues and an NCAA investigation. As part of taking improper benefits from a BYU booster, the NCAA suspended Emery for the first nine games this season after he sat out last year.
He also had to deal with a divorce that became public knowledge, a situation that surely is difficult at any age, let alone for a college student. His NCAA infractions were splashed over the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune, which was provided with extensive information by a former family member.
One year ago this month, Emery, in a blog post, wrote about the toll the circumstances had taken on him over the last two years. Understandably, the lingering effects may have carried over to the basketball court.
“I don’t know where he is in terms of his whole emotional mindset,” Cleveland said. “I respect him for how he’s taken everything head on and gone forward, but he’s not been himself.”