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Historic freshman season has Nick Emery on track for BYU basketball greatness

It's been nearly 40 years since we've seen a freshman this good.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

There's been no shortage of hype among the BYU faithful regarding the impending influx of talent to the school's basketball program. Headlined by the vaunted "Lone Peak Three," many hope this group is poised to help the Cougars finally break through on the national level in a big way. So far, there has been a whole lot of speculation and precious few results.

But if you're among those searching for any indication of what the next few years might hold in store for the new boys in blue, it's worth remembering that one of them is already here — and he just turned in one of the greatest freshman seasons that BYU has seen in nearly 40 years.

Put simply, Nick Emery was a revelation during his first year in Provo. Despite coming off two years away from the game and multiple surgical procedures to address long-running medical issues, the Alpine, Utah native smashed a ton of records on his way to posting what is undoubtedly the best performance by a Cougar freshman since Danny Ainge first set foot on campus in 1977.

Paced by his deadly outside shooting and relentless defensive intensity, Emery's first campaign finished behind only Ainge in BYU's freshman record books in many key statistical categories — including points scored, points per game, field goals made, steals, steals per game and 20-point games. If a player is coming in as a close second to the best player in program history, there's probably good reason to be excited about what he might do next.

But Emery didn't just settle for second. He also broke several freshman records of his own, including shattering the previous mark for made 3-point field goals in a season by stroking 97 long-balls — more than twice as many as the previous freshman record holder (Mark Bigelow, with 44) and good for fourth on the all-time single season list behind only Jimmer Fredette and Chase Fischer (twice).

The long-distance shot played an outsized role in Emery's scoring success. He also set BYU's freshman record for made 3-point field goals per game, games with at least three 3-point makes and games with at least five 3-point makes, as well as tying the overall school record for 3-pointers in a single game by knocking down 10 triples in a February game at San Francisco.

That type of explosive scoring was about par for the course for the recently returned missionary. He notched a freshman record 32 double-figure scoring games, eleven 20-point scoring games (second only to Ainge) and even two 30-point games — including the aforementioned San Francisco game where he notched an astronomical 37 points.

All in all, Emery's accomplishments in 2015-16 add up to one of the best two-way seasons by a first-year player in BYU history. To be sure, Ainge's 1977-78 campaign is the gold standard on both side of the ball that has yet to be surpassed. But past that, Emery's performance outshine virtually all others, with the possible exception of Shawn Bradley's defensively dominant lone season in 1990-91.

But regardless of where exactly he shakes in relation to those two, it's clear that Emery is in the company of Cougar legends at a very young age. You can't get into much more rarified air. What does that mean for the rest of his career? Nobody knows. There are too many factors that could affect his trajectory from here, for better or worse, to say for sure.

But based on what we've seen so far — a single season of sensational play — Nick Emery is well on his way to writing his name into the pages of BYU basketball history and potentially becoming one of the best to ever step on the hardwood in Provo.