Led by an unlikely walk-on, surprising Drake is in the top 20 and headed to its first NCAA tournament since 1971
ASKED HOW he can hold down four majors while also serving as the starting point guard for a No. 20--ranked basketball team, Drake senior and 3.97 GPA student Adam Emmenecker replies, "Time management." His skills in that department will very likely be put to the test next month because Drake's basketball season figures to go later than usual.
Following a 71--64 victory at eighth-ranked Butler last Saturday, Drake (24--3 and ranked 11th in the latest RPI) is almost assuredly headed to its first NCAA tournament since 1971. Picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Missouri Valley Conference after losing four starters from last year's 17--15 team, Drake has been the biggest surprise in college basketball. "To have  victories and a conference [regular-season] championship already wrapped up has gone above and beyond what the biggest optimist at Drake would have predicted," says first-year Bulldogs coach Keno Davis, who took over the program after his father, Tom, retired last spring.
Drake's improbable rise mirrors that of its brainy point guard, who arrived at the Des Moines school four years ago as a walk-on. Emmenecker averaged only 4.7 points a game as a senior at Arthur Hill High in Saginaw, Mich., and was set to go to Boston College on a baseball scholarship when he decided he wanted to continue his basketball career. He'd already put down a housing deposit at BC, but he sought out Tom Davis, who had a history of using walk-ons in his 28 years of coaching before taking over at Drake in 2003.
Emmenecker started just two games during his first three seasons and entered this year with 57 points in 58 career games, but he has emerged as a savvy floor general with a conference-leading 6.0 assists a game through Sunday. With his deft distribution of the ball and four marksmen who always have the green light from beyond the arc—Josh Young (73 of 157), Klayton Korver (60 of 182), Leonard Houston (44 of 128) and Jonathan Cox (35 of 77)—the Bulldogs rank 19th in the nation in three-pointers made per game.
Like Emmenecker, most of the Bulldogs were lightly recruited and take their academics seriously. Young, a 6'1" sophomore guard from Lawton, Okla., dreamed of playing for Oklahoma State but didn't get a nibble from the Cowboys despite leading the state in scoring as a junior and senior. He leads the Missouri Valley in scoring (16.5 points a game). "I had never heard of Drake before they called me," says Young, who has a double major in marketing and management. Cox, a 6'8" junior forward, was a walk-on like Emmenecker. A 6'3" senior guard, Houston is arguably the Bulldogs' best athlete. He interned at a private equity company in Los Angeles last summer and lists his dream job as "a top executive in a private equity firm."
Emmenecker, who majors in finance, business, management and entrepreneurship, has already accepted a job at a FORTUNE 500 company in Des Moines after he graduates. Having prolonged his basketball career for four more years than he ever expected, Emmenecker realizes he's down to his last few weeks. "We have to appreciate this ride," he says. It's already been more thrilling than any Drake follower could have imagined.
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Tennessee's upset of Memphis last Saturday boosted the Vols to No. 1 for the first time in school history, but the win could mean even more to the NCAA tournament selection committee. Having two of the most significant road victories of the year may count as much as winning the SEC in securing the No. 1 seed for Tennessee and Tyler Smith (right). Here are the road wins that could most affect NCAA seeding.
1. Tennessee 66, Memphis 62, Feb. 23
Vols ended Tigers' unbeaten run at 26 games.
2. Texas 63, UCLA 61, Dec. 2
Best of Longhorns' three wins against top-seven teams.
3. Wisconsin 67, Texas 66, Dec. 29
Badgers' win foreshadowed surprising run at Big Ten title.
4. Duke 89, North Carolina 78, Feb. 6
Blue Devils got early edge for No. 1 seed over Tar Heels.
5. Tennessee 82, Xavier 75, Dec. 22
Vols handed Muskies lone Cintas Center loss.
JOHN BIEVER (EMMENECKER)
INVALUABLE Although he averages only 7.4 points, Emmenecker is an MVP candidate in the MVC.
BOB ROSATO (SMITH)