Former walk-ons fill unlikely role as stars for Drake basketball

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By Luke Meredith

DES MOINES, Iowa – There’s a reason former walk-ons Jonathan Cox and Adam Emmenecker landed at Drake. The Bulldogs were the only Division I team that wanted them.

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.

“I think it shows there’s not a whole lot of difference between guys who aren’t getting any scholarship offers and guys that can be all-conference players. It’s how hard you can work,” first-year Drake coach Keno Davis said. “I think it’s helped us during the streak, where 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.

Emmenecker epitomizes the 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, averaging 4.4 rebounds per game.