It's been a long time coming.
For years that seem like decades, Cougar fans have breathlessly awaited the arrival of Dave Rose's vaunted recruiting classes of 2013 and 2014, and specifically, the arrival of the highly touted "Lone Peak Three" — Nick Emery, Eric Mika and TJ Haws. This was the future of the program, people whispered in hushed tones. These players were the ones who would finally propel BYU to greatness.
Whether or not any of that ends up being true, after two years away on an LDS Church mission, the first of them has finally set foot on campus. Starting with the Cougars' first game against Utah Valley on Friday, Nick Emery will get to write his first chapters in the BYU history books — and the rest of us will finally get a glimpse of what we've been waiting for.
The unfortunate side effect of this kind of anticipation is, of course, inflated expectations. After so many years of waiting and so many crazed message board chains predicting multiple Final Four runs, is it even possible for Emery to live up to that kind of hype?
The jury is still out on that front, and it likely will be for quite some time. As Emery begins his college career this week, it's essential that BYU fans maintain proper perspective on what they're about to witness.
No matter how preternaturally talented he may be (and I assure you that Nick is an exceptionally talented player), he is still a true freshman who has never experienced a minute of Division I college basketball. He hasn't played in a competitive game in more than two years, and he's coming off a series of surgeries to correct a long-running medical condition. So let's pump the brakes for a minute on the expectations game.
This isn't to say that Emery isn't ready to contribute. He is, and he will have a significant role on this team. But even the most talented freshmen (guys like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, for example) experience challenges in transitioning to the collegiate level — and they never spent two years away from the game or dealt with serious health issues. When you think about everything Emery has had to overcome, it seems more than fair to give him some time and space to learn and grow.
There's no doubt that Nick will have his fair share of great games. He's just too talented not to, and coach Dave Rose's up-tempo, trigger-happy system plays perfectly into his considerable strengths. There will be times when he will look like one of the best players on the floor, and Rose will give him that chance to shine. But there will also be times when he is overmatched and overwhelmed. There will be times when he underdelivers in frustrating, mind-boggling fashion.
In other words, there will be times where he looks like what he is — a freshman. And that's okay.
Nick Emery is going to have plenty of time in the sun. This season is just the dawn of his era. It's a chance for him to learn the college game from the likes of Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer, to find his footing and gain experience. He'll get plenty of minutes. He'll get his fair share of shots, and he'll likely make quite a few. He'll also make quite a few mistakes.
Everything that happens — every up and every down — will serve as a crucial learning experience. Each personal victory and failure is another step on his path to becoming the player that Cougar fans believe he can be.
So yes, you should be excited about Nick Emery. You should dream big dreams about what he and his Lone Peak compatriots might be able to do in Provo. But you should also be ready to stick by him through the challenging times that almost certainly lay ahead. We won't get to see whether he can live up to the hype unless we support him as he's refined by the fire. And after waiting this long, what's a little more patience?