It’s somewhat of a fluke that 6-foot-6, 210-pound John Emezie ended up on the basketball court in the first place.
But it’s a good thing for Marvin Ridge, as the bruising wing is averaging 30.2 points per game – the most in the county by eight points per game – and has put up double-digit points in his last 27 consecutive games, while also averaging 8.6 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks per game.
But rewind to sixth grade and the Maverick star had never even played competitive basketball.
“I played football when I was younger,” Emezie explained. “That was my sport. One of my teammate’s parents had a basketball team and he decided to take all the tallest players on the football field and put together his team that way. Because I was tall, I decided to stick with it.”
Even with his imposing height – he’s been over six foot since middle school – Emezie recalls that his coaches weren’t initially impressed with his abilities on the court.
“They didn’t think I was good at all,” he said, laughing. “I don’t really like being told that I’m not good at something, so I decided to keep working on it just to prove everyone wrong. By seventh and eighth grade I started growing into myself a little more and by ninth grade, I was confident that I could play.”
Marvin Ridge coach Gosnell White took a chance on the up-and-coming star when Emezie reached the high school level, placing him on the varsity team as a freshman. He didn’t see much court time as the Mavs went 17-7 that season with a roster stacked with senior talent, so Emezie made it a point to hit the weight room hard in the off-season to come back better prepared for the varsity level as a sophomore.
And he did just that. In his debut performance against Charlotte Latin as a sophomore, Emezie put up 13 points and went on to average 11 that season. He proved his talent on the court even further last year, upping his average to 18 points and seven rebounds per game, tossing in a then career-high 29 points in a win against Parkwood.
But this year, he’s made even more of a progression as Emezie has done it all this year in order to prove to everyone that he’s one of the most complete players around. Emezie had a breakthrough performance in the second game of his senior season, shooting 83 percent from the field to put up 44 points against Central Cabarrus, and he’s surpassed the 30-point marker in 10 games since.
Even more, he’s shot 56 percent from the floor and over 40 percent from the 3-point line, making him a threat at any spot on the court. He’s most efficient on the offensive end, but has upped his defensive game over the course of his career as a Maverick, averaging two blocks and two steals per game and becoming a matchup nightmare on both ends of the floor.
“When I started off, I was strictly a center,” he said. “My coaches wouldn’t let me shoot but as I got older, I proved to my coaches that I could shoot and really worked on that. Now, I like shooting from the 3-point line and can go both inside and outside. I’ve improved on the defensive end, too, and it’s been great to develop like
Emezie has had help developing his game through older brother KC and younger brother Emeka. Coming from an athletic family, Emezie found that he’s always had a bit of competitiveness in him that comes out when he’s playing with his brothers. KC, a 2011 Marvin Ridge grad who now plays at California Institute of Technology, played on the Maverick team for four years where he averaged 15 points per game and shot 75 percent from the floor. Emeka, a freshman at Marvin Ridge, measures in at 6-foot-3 and has gotten varsity experience this season, following in his brothers’ footsteps.
“My brothers have been able to push me further in my basketball career,” Emezie said. “There used to be a lot of competition. KC and I would do our individual workouts and then come together on the court. But with Emeka, we’re playing pickup together and working out together so it creates that competition. It’s been interesting with two brothers, because it’s great playing on the same team with them but it can definitely get heated. It’s a brotherly love thing.”
With both Emeka and John on the court this season, the Mavericks have gone 12-8 – their best season since 2010-11. But conference losses to Sun Valley, Piedmont and Weddington have left them sitting tied for third place in Southern Carolinas conference and they’ll need a strong showing in the tournament if they want to make the playoffs.
“We’ve had our hills and valleys this season,” Emezie said. “We’ll do really well in spurts and then we’ll just look really bad. When we play to our full potential, I’ve seen that we’re capable of big things. That’s when I really enjoy being on the court. I love the guys on the team and the coaches, and when we play to our full potential, that’s when it’s the best. Those are the moments I’ll remember.”
With the conference tournament beginning with the Mavericks taking on Cuthbertson on Feb. 19, Emezie is making the most of his time left on the high school court, knowing that this is his last chance to play as a Maverick. But his career won’t end just yet.
Emezie, who is just as successful in the classroom as he is on the court, boasting a 4.5 GPA, will continue his basketball career at the United States Military Academy at West Point. After his four years at West Point, Emezie said he’d like to enroll in the United States Army for five years upon graduation.
“I’m back and forth on my feelings toward next year,” he said. “I really like the school and the coaches and the education. Some days I’m still iffy on the whole military part. Some days I’m excited and some days I’m really nervous. But I guess that’s to be expected.”
Along with Emezie, the Mavericks will be losing five seniors to graduation and White, who has served as the coach at Marvin Ridge since 2007.
“I just think this is the right time for me,” White said regarding his retirement. “I’ll miss the kids and the time. Coaching, to me personally, is just (about) the lasting relationships built and the many lives I’ve touched, and the lives that have touched me.”
“Things will be different here next year, definitely,” Emezie said. “I didn’t really think it would come to this. Freshman year I remember thinking this time would never come. I don’t really know how to feel. It’s so surreal. It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I know when it does, it will hit me hard. Coach White was thinking about retiring last year but he decided to stay so he could see me through my senior year. There’s definitely a connection there. I’ve loved playing for him.
“I’ve loved playing here at Marvin Ridge. But the good thing is, I get to keep playing basketball in college. I’m lucky. Not many people can say that.”