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Emmenecker leads Drake into NCAA Tournament

TAMPA — To be honest, the recruiter said, Adam Emmenecker's jump shot was not even a consideration. Nor, according to the recruiter's early notes, were his ballhandling skills thoroughly discussed.

Frankly, his PPG was nothing compared to the GPA.

And penetrate? No, but the kid could articulate.

Which may explain why, five months ago, Emmenecker was considered a better prospect at the Principal Financial Group than the Drake University basketball program.

"He was highly recommended," said Nu Huynh, the campus relations manager at Principal who recruited Emmenecker and later hired him for a coveted position in the company's leadership development rotation program. "I remember looking at the resume and being wowed."

As opposed to Emmenecker's stat sheet, which, at the time, was more "Ow!" than "Wow!" Three years at Drake, and he had two starts to his name. He had seen 82 games, and scored 57 points. Three years as a walk-on, and he didn't get a scholarship until a transfer left the Bulldogs with a leftover grant in August.

So you'll understand why Emmenecker was already thinking of trading the locker room for the boardroom around the start of his senior season. Even when coach Keno Davis called him in the office to tell him a scholarship had come open, he pointed out that it was no guarantee of playing time.

Now here we are, months later, and Emmenecker is the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, and Drake is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 37 years.

"I'm not sure how it happened," Davis said.

Neither is anyone else. Ask the players in the Drake locker room if they knew Emmenecker was a breakout star waiting to happen, and you've never seen so many heads shake.

This is a guy who was on no one's All-American list as a high school senior in Saginaw, Mich. His only scholarship offer was to play baseball at Boston College. On the plus side, he did lead Saginaw to a 22-2 record as a senior, and his high school coach told the folks at Drake that he averaged 11 points a game.

It wasn't until Emmenecker was filling out his bio for the Drake media guide that they discovered he actually averaged 4.7 points a game as a prep senior.

"You didn't average 11 points?" assistant coach Chris Davis asked.

"No," Emmenecker said, "but I once scored 12 in a game."

The problem, Emmenecker said, is that nobody understood his role in high school. Playing on a team of talented scorers, Emmenecker felt he was more useful putting the ball in the hands of others.

"He's not exceptionally athletic," said his father Michael Emmenecker. "He can't dunk. He doesn't do fabulous spin moves. He's not flashy. He plays within himself, he's under control. And all of those things are boring."

Ah, but those things are also the way you win. Emmenecker is not the best defensive player on the roster, but he makes the defense better. He's not the leading scorer, but he makes the offense better. Emmenecker averaged 8.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists, yet was an easy pick as the top player in the conference.

So who do you suppose feels more regret today?

The hundreds of head coaches who didn't bother pursing Emmenecker out of high school, or the Drake coaches who didn't realize what they had languishing at the end of their bench?

"It's been like a storybook," Chris Davis said. "Everybody talks about it like Rudy. Rudy got to play one game, and they made a movie out of him. This is a true story, but it sounds more like fiction. You don't go from a walk-on to the player of the year in your league. You don't score more in college than you did in high school.

"Those things just don't happen."

Okay, in defense of coaches everywhere, not even Emmenecker was sure this could happen. He even came to have doubts about his decision to give up the baseball scholarship to be a basketball walk-on.

What eventually helped was getting the scholarship in August. It didn't mean he was a different player, but it helped him feel different about himself. And the confidence spread to those around him.

"Around here, we don't treat walk-ons any differently from scholarship players," Emmenecker said. "But, individually, you know there's a difference. Even though coaches and players treat you the same, there's still a difference. Whether it's everyone else noticing it, or you feeling it yourself, there is a level of validation."

This revelation has put Emmenecker in an interesting position. Carrying four majors (finance, business, management and entrepreneurial management) and a minor (economics) with a 3.97 GPA, Emmenecker figured he would be in a suit and tie soon enough.

He already had talked to the folks at Principal about taking off a little time after school to travel, and then reporting to the management program sometime in June.

Now, there are those who wonder if he has a future playing professional basketball in Europe. Or whether he should even give the NBA a shot.

Emmenecker isn't ready to speculate. He already has his hands full with Drake's biggest game in decades against Western Kentucky this afternoon.

Everything else can wait.

This time, Emmenecker is the one with all the options.

>>fast facts

Men's region games in Tampa

When/where: Today and Sunday; St. Pete Times Forum

Tickets: About 3,000 are available at $208, including a service charge, for the six games or $76 for each session. For information, call (813) 301-6600 or go to sptimesforum.com/ncaa2008.

Emmenecker leads Drake into NCAA Tournament 03/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 12:15am]
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