|Underdogs: Former walk-ons Cox, Emmencker help fuel Drake's rise|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 12 February 2008 11:04|
How fitting, then, that one of college basketball's most unlikely stories would include two such unlikely stars.
Cox, a junior forward, and Emmenecker, a senior point guard, have become indispensable to No. 14 Drake (22-1, 13-0 Missouri Valley Conference), which has the nation's second-longest winning streak. Cox leads the MVC in rebounding and 3-point shooting percentage, while Emmenecker is tops in assists.
Their work ethic has rubbed off on the rest of the Bulldogs, a team of overachievers with a knack for winning.
That would be 21 straight wins to be exact.
ere they came from. They haven't gotten their heads too big because they weren't the highest-profile guys coming out of high school.''
Cox and Emmenecker fit in perfectly on a team full of kids who, until this season, flew largely under the radar.
Sophomore guard Josh Young led the state of Oklahoma in scoring as a junior and senior at tiny Lawton Christian High. Major schools passed on the 6-foot-1 guard, and he's now the Valley's leading scorer at 16 points per game. Senior guard Leonard Houston spent three years in a reserve role and never averaged more than 4.5 points a game. As a first-year starter, he's third in the Valley at 14.7 points.
Senior forward Klayton Korver won't be remembered like his brother Kyle, a two-time MVC Player of the Year at Creighton. But he's carved out a solid career despite chronic knee problems, recently passing 1,000 career points.
``They've worked for everything they've gotten. So now that they start having success, they just want more,'' Davis said.
Those three had a leg up on Cox and Emmenecker, though. At least they had scholarships.
In 2004, Cox tuned out naysayers who pegged him as Division II material and walked on at Drake, which hadn't finished above .500 since 1987. He finally earned a scholarship before the 2006-07 season and has developed into one of the nation's most versatile big men, shooting 50 percent from 3-point range.
e type of student-athlete sought at Drake, a private school with just over 3,000 undergraduates that prides itself on academics. He has more majors (four) than career 3s (zero), and has already lined up a job at a Des Moines-based financial firm after graduation.
A bit player his first three seasons, Emmenecker didn't earn his scholarship until the day before Drake's season opener in November. He's become arguably Drake's MVP, consistently feeding the Bulldogs' stable of shooters while keeping its fast-paced offense under control.
Teammates point to the leadership and toughness of Cox and Emmenecker as major factors in Drake's success. Emmenecker is averaging more rebounds per game, 4.4, than any point guard in the league. The 6-foot-8 Cox has become the consummate inside-out player who can bang down low, an important trait given he's the only player over 6-5.
``Those two definitely are driven,'' sophomore guard Josh Young said. ``They stepped into some big roles, and we all look up to them and the way they worked in the offseason.''
What's been remarkable about Drake's winning streak is how many times it's been close to ending. The Bulldogs haven't won a game by more than 10 points since the middle of January, but they've shown a remarkable ability to make the plays that ultimately swing the outcome in their favor.
Drake is 5-0 when trailing on the road at halftime and has won at Bradley, Creighton and Illinois State. Emmenecker says the team simply ``got sick of losing.'' Cox gives much of the credit to Emmenecker's heads-up play in crunch time.
``We've got a lot of smart players. (Emmenecker) does a great job of taking care of the ball, controlling the ball,'' Cox said. ``We seem to make smart plays at the end.''
Confidence is at an all-time high at Drake, but doubters remain. Picking the Bulldogs' next defeat has replaced caucus chatter as the topic du jour in Des Moines, and many see Wednesday's date at Southern Illinois as the next pothole.
The Salukis have won 59 of their last 60 league home games. Given what Davis has seen out of Cox, Emmenecker and the rest of the upstart Bulldogs, he isn't ready to let outside talk bother him.
``We've been taking each game saying there's nothing for us to lose. We've playing the underdog role for a while,'' Davis said. ``If we're in the game in the last 3-4 minutes, I like our chances.''