If Taylor Emery can figure out how to thrive as a basketball player despite playing in four different uniforms in the past four years, then nailing a game-winning shot sounds comparatively breezy.
The junior guard for Virginia Tech certainly handled pressure Wednesday night, hitting a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left against West Virginia to earn a spot in today’s 2018 Postseason WNIT championship game. The Hokies (23-13) will square off against host Indiana (22-14) at 3 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
Emery’s route to VT has been unusual – high school in Florida, a freshman year at Tulane and then a transfer to a Florida junior college, where she earned national playoff of the year honors. With head coach Kenny Brooks (just in his second year himself) careful to ease her into the mix, Emery has blossomed in Blacksburg.
She’s averaging 18.4 points per game, converting 39 percent of her 3-pointers and shooting 86 percent from the free-throw line. VT certainly has other options and strengths, but Emery is that person you turn to when a hoop has to happen.
“Coming in as an upperclassman, I had to opportunity to really understand the offenses and defenses, and I picked it up quicker than if I had been a freshman. Learning about people and personalities (before) helped me learn about them here, and the people here brought me in and put me under their wings,” said Emery, who was in early foul trouble against West Virginia but scored 18 of her 23 points in the second half.
“It’s a credit to her, and a credit to how seriously she took the recruiting process here. She didn’t just go after a name, but studied the situation and saw Virginia Tech was the place for her,” said Brooks, who coached at James Madison for 14 seasons before coming over to VT. “We wanted it to happen naturally, and she took off in the middle of the year. She’s super comfortable right now, and we are fortunate to have one more year with her.”
“We’ve had two really good years to start. We won 20 games and went to the (quarterfinals) of the WNIT, then had to start over a bit because we had three seniors. We had a set of new players, with 23 wins and hopefully one more, with everyone buying in to what we are preaching.”
There were occasional steps forward for the Hokies all season, but the true indication of what the team could do came in the ACC Tournament. VT used a 21-0 run to storm past Syracuse and then played the NCAA Final Four squad from Louisville and fell by just three points.
Virginia Tech had been scrambling a bit, with junior forward Rachel Camp taking over at point guard after Chanette Hicks left the team for the time being, but those results have fueled a terrific run in the WNIT.
“The ACC Tournament was where we had our most profound performances, and we’ve just been building on that. We found our roles and understood each other, and what our coaches want … we embraced all that, and you can see it shows on the court,” Emery said. “You can see how tight-knit everything looks.”
“We’ve been in championship mode. To be able to bring one home would be amazing for us. That would give so much momentum for next year, and if we hadn’t made the postseason, we wouldn’t know we could have performances like we are having now.”
With just three players coming back this season with notable minutes under Brooks’ system, there were highs and lows (including an 18-point loss to West Virginia back in November). But even if the Hokies have to play in front of 8,000 Indiana fans today, they’ll be comfortable in the moment and thrilled for the chance to grow as a team.
“We had a tremendous showing against Syracuse, where we built a lot of confidence and where the kids really rallied around each other. From that point on, we’ve played well … that was a defining moment for the team, and hopefully one for the program,” Brooks said. “We’ll have just about everyone back next year, and we’re adding some pieces we are really excited about from the recruiting standpoint.
“The best thing can happen to us is we get to cut down the nets Saturday. It’s good to teach your kids they can be champions … we like where we are. I had the same run at James Madison (in 2012), where we got to the final against Oklahoma State. From that point on, we won three straight (Colonial) league championships and played in the NCAAs. A lot of that was attributable to playing in the WNIT, where we grew up and gained experience.”