HARROGATE, Tenn. - He knew the odds were against him. They always have been, dating back to his days as a four-year-old, small town Alabama boy with the dream to play in the National Basketball Association.
But like every other time, Emanuel Terry put the negativity and naysayers on the back burner. "I don't even buy into that negative talk at all, honestly," Terry, a former Lincoln Memorial University standout, said in a telephone interview Tuesday, July 10. "You'd be surprised who will do that." Those who Terry thought were friends instead filled his ears with persuasion of peer pressure and the idea that he couldn't make it out of his hometown in Enterprise, Ala. The determined teenager put mind over matter and approached his mother, Angela Spann, putting to rest the negativity sooner rather than later. "I grew up in Enterprise, Ala., and not many people really make it out and be successful and live out their dreams," Terry said, "from not having financial needs and can easily be influenced by bad groups of people. In my case, I asked my mom my ninth-grade year going into my 10th-grade year that I need to be somewhere I can be noticed and get the proper basketball skill development." His wish was granted, moving from a town where his dreams were viewed as impossible to Cleveland, Ala., where basketball could be his escape route with the right mentality. "All the odds were against me, but I knew God had my back," Terry said. "I knew I had to trust in myself and Him, then everything would be OK." THE WAY OUT The now 6-foot-9 forward wasn't ever questioned about his athletic ability. The problem was getting college coaches to come and watch in his small town so he nipped that in the bud by joining the Alabama Selects, an AAU team, in hopes to attract coaches. It took just one play of an AAU Nationals game at Disney's World Wide Sports' Milk House to catch Josh Schertz' eye in 2013. The LMU men's basketball head coach stumbled onto court No. 1 earlier than expected, soaking wet from a torrential downpour, but that didn't stop him from seeing his to-be All-American forward controlling the court that day in Orlando, Fla. "I look up and you see this kid with braids flopping around and he's out there running around, playing hard," Schertz said, "and you could tell that he was raw but the way he moved he had the athleticism - quick-twitch athlete. He was trying to get things done because his motor was very high. "I remember we were flipping through, and I was trying to create the schedule and just marking them down, but I'll never forget it, court No. 1 in the Milk House. We walked in the door and we weren't even there to see him, but it just so happened that fate put me there and that was the start of the process." It took Schertz five months to even learn Terry's name - there wasn't a roster for that specific AAU game - and get his contact information, but the LMU men's basketball staff was determined to see him play again. And they did, a lot more. Then-assistant Keegan Bell, whose father lived an hour from Terry's high school in Cleveland, Ala., popped over for a practice and then the tall, lanky player found himself shortly after in the place he'd call home for four years, Harrogate, Tenn. "That was the first time I really did any kind of post moves. I went off basic, pure talent my whole high school career so that night he said he liked me, and I was excited," Terry said, smiling. "As time went on, I got calls here and there from people then I took a visit, my family traveled up to Harrogate, and we took two visits and the second time I told mom, 'I think this is where I need to be.'" GUT FEELING Terry picked LMU, a Division II university, over a Division I institution, knowing his odds of making the League could, from perception, be even slimmer. He didn't care or back down. The feeling he had when he engaged with the LMU coaching staff and the butterflies that fluttered as he walked into Tex Turner Arena trumped everything else. "I fell in love with it from the start because of the coaching staff and coach Schertz and the great coach that he is," Terry said. "It's like somebody saw the talent that I didn't see. "They said I could play at a high level and have great potential in the next four years so I bought in. It was like, 'If somebody finds interest in me, why not find interest in them?'" Terry took his undeniable talent, with a unique blend of work ethic and competitiveness that Schertz saw from first sight, and began building himself into a reliable, go-to big man. He tacked on a couple inches vertically, muscled up and improved from his freshman season on, including working through a left foot fracture that limited him his junior year. It was his senior season, coming off the injury that he was determined more than ever to make it his greatest. "My senior year I promised myself I wouldn't go for anything less and I'd have my best college year," he said. "From losing my dad and certain family issues, I stayed focused and humbled." He stayed true to his word, honoring his father, Otis, who lost his battle with cancer May 27, 2017, giving Terry even more incentive to play for more than himself but for the man who was in the gym with him during his early playing days. The older Terry would have been more than proud as his son took his game to another level in his farewell season, garnering South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year, SAC Defensive Player of the Year, Southeast Region Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. The LMU standout then was named the Bevo Francis Award winner, an accolade given to the best player outside of NCAA Division I, and capped his historic season as the SAC Male Athlete of the Year. "When he came in, people said, 'Well, how'd you get him?' Because they see him now," Schertz said. "He wasn't that when he got here. He didn't walk in the door the player he is today. His growth has been leaps and bounds and not in intermits. "That growth through leaps and bounds started when he got here and has continued even as he's left here and went onto the next level." STAY TRUE June 21 was a night Terry longed for - the NBA Draft. The LMU All-American showed the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets what he was capable of during pre-draft workouts, but he knew the odds were stacked up against him once again. "The night of the draft, I didn't make it a big deal," Terry said. "Coming from a Division II school versus a Division I school, and somebody like me coming from that background and all the years of limited exposure, it'd be hard for me to really great drafted. But, I still prayed over it and hoped to God it'd happen." The call didn't come that night, but one did a few days later. It was a ring from Terry's agent, saying the Nuggets wanted him to come play in their Summer League, which would make him the first Railsplitter to reach such a feat. It was an opportunity he made possible for himself through hard work and determination to be physically ready for the professional level. Most importantly, Terry paved his way once he stepped onto LMU's campus by staying true to himself, which is his most attractive attribute - though his two-handed slams lighting up the highlight reels look real good - and not getting caught up in the fame. "Everybody is looking for, in simplified terms, players who are really good people because that's how you win," Schertz said. "Emanuel has just stayed grounded with the success he's had. It's easy to lose sight of yourself and change as a person and start to become different because you think you have to be different because you have success. He's done a marvelous job, while he was here, and as he's gone on to play with the Nuggets of not changing the core of who he is. "He's always been a kid with great spirit, great charisma. He's just got an energy that is infectious and draws people to him. He's just been a respectful, humble guy and he walked into the door that way as a freshman, and he left that way as a National Player of the Year. None of those characteristics changed, and now you look at him as he's gotten up there. He certainly hasn't forgotten where he's came from." It's true the Division II product has never lost sight of his roots, with his inner-drive being to give back to his mother and father, while proving all the doubters wrong at the same time. It's proof that even though the odds aren't in one's favor that the dreams, faith and aspirations are. One just has to believe it, and Terry did just that. "I always told my mom I want to play in the NBA. I'm still in the dream, I haven't made it yet," he said, "but I'm still a ways from my full potential. Now, I see the light now and somebody is actually giving me a chance. From all the support I've had, people coming from all types of places, saying, 'I'm proud of you.' It means a lot to me. "I try to represent Lincoln Memorial and let the world know, a player like myself can fulfill your dreams by keeping God first and having great people around you that want you to succeed and having that drive about yourself."
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