By Daniel Whitehead
Many returned missionaries have a hard time adjusting to normal life after serving for two years.
For student athletes, the transition is even more difficult. Not only do they have to return to college and reintroduce themselves to the social atmosphere, but many must also shake the rust off their legs and increase their lung capacities to previous states.
Noah Hartsock and Jackson Emery of the men”s basketball team find themselves in such conditions. Hartsock, a forward from Bartlesville, Okla., returned to the team in late July after serving in the Salt Lake City South Spanish-speaking Mission, immediately after graduating from high school in 2006. Emery returned in June and looks to build on his impressive 2005-06 freshman year statistics after serving in the Mexico Leon mission.
Bienvenidos a Provo once again.
Both are shaking the dust off their post-mission legs to prepare for the upcoming season.
“It”s great to be back here working with the team, trying to get back in shape,” Hartsock said. “It”s been a lot of fun, but a lot of hard work too.”
Just a week after his return, Emery started working out again under strength and conditioning coach Justin McClure. Though a quick adjustment is desired, teammates and coaches understand the time required for a full recovery.
“More than anything, they tell us to watch out because our body isn”t used to this,” Emery said. “Your body tightens up and you have to learn your limits. I have to stretch out a lot here and then I go home to stretch some more, putting ice on and taking all the precautionary steps.”
Junior center Chris Miles overcame his post-mission year last season and is giving his teammates tips on how to return.
“You have to always keep your head up,” he said. “There are days when your legs feel sore and you think, ”Why am I feeling this way?” When those days come, you just fight through it and you”ll get back to where you were before.”
Their effort hasn”t gone unnoticed by head coach Dave Rose.
“[Noah Hartsock] has been surprisingly good with his ability to physically stay with us after getting home so late,” he said. “His execution is coming along well and he”s ahead of where we thought he would be. Jackson [Emery] is battling sore legs, but he plays so hard and his effort is consistent. He just goes and goes and goes.”
Both are coming home to a program that is much different from the one they knew so many years ago. Hartsock committed to the Cougars during former coach Steve Cleveland”s last season, when the team went 9-21. Emery”s freshman campaign was Rose”s first season as head coach, when the Cougars finished at a respectable 20-9.
However, Emery sees a change in atmosphere.
“Before, no one knew what was going on because we had a new coaching staff and a lot of new or inexperienced players,” he said. “Now, it”s more of a certainty. We know what the program is and what we want to do with it. We have expectations of what we want to achieve.”
They look to contribute to Rose”s system in any way possible and are following the lead of veterans Lee Cummard and Jonathan Tavernari.
“We”ve got some good players here already,” Hartsock said. “I”ll rebound, play defense, and contribute in any way I can.”
“I”m just going to come in and do whatever they need me to do,” he said. “I”ll defend or knock down the three or distribute the ball to Lee [Cummard] and Chris [Miles].”
They believe the mission experience will have long-lasting effects.
“In the beginning, it”s going to hurt my game,” Hartsock said. “But I”m more mature and I think it”s going to help out in the long run.”
Emery said he feels like his mission experiences helped him improve mentally and emotionally, so he can now serve a vital role on the hardwood in 2008-09.
“Mentally, I”m more confident and more stable,” Emery said. “The mission helped with the mental part and the emotional part. In the long run, it will all help out.”