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BYU basketball: Moving on without Nick Emery

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BYU guard Nick Emery has withdrawn from BYU and will no longer play in the 2017–18 season. (Photo by Rebecca Lane/UV360)

Nick Emery is out — and BYU basketball is looking to who is up next.

The BYU junior announced in a press release Friday night that he had withdrawn from BYU for the semester and would no longer be playing for BYU basketball during the 2017–18 season.

“I have decided to withdraw from BYU today,” Emery said in a press release. “Unfortunately, I am mentally not where I need to be in order to perform in basketball and in school this year. As it has been made known, I went through a divorce this year and it has been really difficult for me. I have confidence that I will come back stronger and better. I have every intention on coming back to BYU and representing Cougar nation on the basketball floor. I thank everyone for their love and support, especially my teammates, coaches and the BYU administration that have been an incredible support system. Go Cougs!”

Emery didn’t acknowledge the pending NCAA investigation of which he is the focal point, an investigation that is still ongoing. In October, The Salt Lake Tribune broke the news that Emery was under investigation for allegedly accepting gifts from a BYU booster. The NCAA is continuing the investigation and BYU is still awaiting an eligibility decision on Emery.

BYU has hired a law firm with expertise in NCAA infractions to investigate the case.

Nick Emery’s older brother and former BYU basketball star, Jackson Emery, posted on Twitter about Nick Emery’s intention to return to BYU basketball in the future.

Throughout the dark cloud of investigation, BYU coach Dave Rose says he has been impressed with the mature approach his team has taken in supporting Nick Emery and staying focused on basketball.

“Hopefully we can get some closure, but our guys have got their arms around him and they are helping him through each day,” Rose told the media on Nov. 1. “Some days are tougher than others. As a coach, I’ve been doing this a long time, I have seen these guys really embrace this kid. Hopefully we get him back to where we know he can be helping this team.”

Now with Nick Emery’s official withdrawal, BYU is taking its first steps forward to the rest of the 2017–18 season. BYU team captain Elijah Bryant acknowledged the loss of Nick Emery during a press conference following the BYU basketball game against Mississippi Valley State on Saturday. Bryant said it’s time for “the next guy to step up.”

“This is bigger than basketball,” said BYU Elijah Bryant. “We always have (Nick’s) back, but as a team it is now time to move on and have the next guy step up.”

Who will the Cougars look to?

Well, it turns out Rose and his staff planned ahead for that. In a press conference following BYU’s season-opening win over MVSU, Rose told media that while news of the NCAA investigation into Nick Emery’s relationship with a BYU booster was only recently publicized, the team had been dealing with the NCAA investigation for months.

“Distractions come in all shapes, all forms, all sizes,” Rose said. “This is one that is extremely personal to our guys because they lost a good friend, not only a teammate. It’s a close bunch of guys. … This is not how anyone wanted it to turn out. We’ll put it behind us and move forward.”

“The biggest affect will be the depth. … When you put your team together, you plan on those experienced guys to be a pillar for you. When you take one away, you have to make up for it.” — Dave Rose, BYU coach

In his freshman campaign, Nick Emery averaged 16.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He set the Cougar freshman record for 3-point field goals with 97 and helped BYU reach the semifinals of the NIT. Nick Emery was named to the All-WCC Second Team and the All-WCC Freshman Team at the end of the season.

He cooled off slightly in his sophomore year, posting an average of 13.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists. During the 2016–17 season, he also had a team-high 55 steals and hit 75 3-pointers. Emery became the fourth BYU player to reach 1,000 career points as a sophomore.

Without Emery, BYU loses a scoring guard and defensive leader.

“The biggest affect will be the depth,” Rose said. “He’s played a lot of minutes for us. He’s done a lot of good things over the two years that he’s played. When you put your team together, you plan on those experienced guys to be a pillar for you. When you take one away, you have to make up for it. We’re not going to replace him.”

Luckily, because BYU has been aware of the investigation for months, Rose says his staff “did a good job of recruiting to this possibility” of losing Emery for at least part of the 2017–18 season. He pointed to transfer guards Jahshire Hardnett and Kajon Brown as well as freshman Rylan Bergersen as examples for the guard recruiting effort.

In the exhibition games and season-opener game, Hardnett claimed most of those open minutes left vacant by Nick Emery’s exit.

“Jahshire is good with the ball in his hand,” Rose said in a press conference at the beginning of November. “He’s a pass-first guy and he’s a good free throw shooter. He has a real respect for the possession which we really like. He’s a likable guy who gets along really well with everybody on the team, and that’s kind of a skill, too. To be able to come in and mix with a bunch of guys and then fit well, then be able to play well with them. To this point I think Jahshire will be a big part of what we’re doing, at least we hope so.”

BYU sophomore Jahshire Hardnett played for Chipola College, a junior college, before transferring to BYU. (Photo by Rebecca Lane/UV360)

Hardnett told the media that adjusting from a junior college pace to the faster pace of the NCAA was difficult at first, but he already feels he is finding his rhythm.

“I just want to be the toughest guy on team, that’s what I bring,” Hardnett said. “I want to continue to be the toughest guy and be the one who doesn’t turn the ball over continuously. I feel like with them trusting me and me having the ball I can make a lot of plays for them and for myself. That and winning games, that’s just it.”

In a pre-season press conference, Rose said Brown and Bergersen were recruited for their length and athleticism.

“We decided we needed to get a long, athletic guys,” Rose said.

Then, of course, BYU has experience guards in Bryant and sophomores TJ Haws and Zac Seljaas.

BYU has cleared its three exhibition games without much of a challenge and graced through its season-opener with a 91–61 over MVSU. Now BYU’s first test comes in the form of the Princeton Tigers.

The Cougars lead the all-time series against the Tigers 5–0, with BYU’s most recent win coming in 2016 where BYU topped Princeton 82–73 in the Marriott Center. This year, the Cougars travel to Princeton, which is the first time since 1981 that the Cougars will play at Jadwin Gymnasium.

BYU plays Princeton on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on the Ivy League Network, NBC Sports California and NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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