PROVO — A tightly wound bundle of ganglion, sinew and muscle is making its mark in the form of BYU junior guard Jackson Emery.
He has become the Mountain West Conference Prince of Thieves.
Wednesday night at Colorado State, Emery should break BYU's single-season steal record he currently shares with Marty Haws (66) and he has a chance to attack the league single season record.
Haws is a guy who could run 100 meters in 10.5 seconds playing point guard at BYU 20 years ago. Emery says he's not even the second or third fastest spurt sprinter on BYU's team because Michael Loyd Jr., and Charles Abouo are faster.
But there's something else working for Emery as he amasses steals for the 14th ranked Cougars. He's sneaky.
"He does have tremendous lateral quickness," said BYU coach Dave Rose, "And he's very skilled at anticipating and understanding what opponents are doing or what their tendencies are. He's one of those guys who can see what's happening before it happens."
Emery should have broken BYU's single-season steal mark against Air Force on Saturday in the Marriott Center where school officials were poised to honor him and present him the game ball. Emery stole the ball from an AFA player inside the key and appeared headed down court when fouled. He was not officially credited for a steal on the play.
"He does have a knack for getting the ball," said Rose.
Only something in the bad fortune department will keep Emery from finishing the league as the leader in steals. His 66 steals thus far is significantly higher than the league's No. 2 player, Wyoming's A.J. Davis (38) who withdrew from school for personal reasons more than a week ago.
Emery's nearest challenger is New Mexico's Roman Martinez (38) and teammate Jimmer Fredette (34).
It would be tough, but Emery is within reach of the MWC's single season steal leader, Marcus Banks of UNLV who had 91 steals in 2002-03. If Emery gets six more regular season games, plus at least two in the MWC tournament and an NCAA tournament game, his average of 2.6 per game will give him about 23 for a total of 89.
If he got three MWC tournament games and helped BYU break that one-and-done wall in the NCAA Tournament, he certainly could catch Banks, especially if the Cougars got a high seed.
"I'm sure going to try," said Emery when asked if he could sustain a 2.6 steal per game average the rest of the season. "It's harder, especially in conference because they know how I play because they've scouted us. They have guys double look before they pass and it gets harder. Fortunately, as the game goes on and guys get tired, they get lazy and I can sneak in there."
Career-wise at BYU, the Cougar leader in schools is John Wooden Award winner Danny Ainge, who, from 1976 through 1981 had 195 steals. Emery has 123 career steals. If he keeps his 2.6 steals a game pace through his career, Emery has a viable chance to finish ahead of Ainge with more than 200 career steals.
This would be remarkable considering Emery started only six games as a freshman and had only 10 steals that season before going on a two-year mission. In that first year out of Lone Peak, he played in 21 games without a steal, playing less than double figure minutes 13 times, eight of those under six minutes. As a sophomore, Emery had 47 steals.
The MWC career steal leader is San Diego State's Brandon Heath (217) from 2003 through 2007.
"It's just a matter of feeling comfortable in the defense," said Emery. "At first I was just learning the defense and I didn't want to mess up, so I took less chances. But I'm so more comfortable now, I know when I can lunge and get steals and being in the game for so long, you get a greater feel for it as the game goes on."
Because it's a lot harder at this time of the year to surprise opponents, Emery knows it will be tough to keep his numbers going. "What they do is back cut you if you overplay the passing lanes, so you have to watch out for that because if you play a little tighter, they'll just go back door and then you just put the team in jeopardy with fouls or points allowed."
The ultimate goal, he says, is to get wins, not any record.
But his steal rate is tough to deny. He's got something going.
Emery said he's never been timed in the 100 meters. "I don't think I have a 10.5 in me like Marty Haws. Loyd is a lot faster and Charles, once he gets going, is like an engine because he's so strong. But, no, I am not the fastest on this team by far."
So, it takes something else.
"I know I have to be sly, I have to outsmart them," he said.
"I don't think you have to be extremely quick, it's just figuring out when to attack and it's all about positioning. If you are in position, it helps to predict where the ball is going to go."
Sounds like a real felon.
The kind Rose is glad to have.