Texas Tech basketball: Andre Emmett will forever be a pillar of the program

DALLAS - MARCH 13: Andre Emmett #14 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts on the court against the Baylor Bears during the Phillips 66 Big XII Championships at American Airlines Center on March 13, 2003 in Dallas, Texas. The Red Raiders won 68-65. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
DALLAS - MARCH 13: Andre Emmett #14 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts on the court against the Baylor Bears during the Phillips 66 Big XII Championships at American Airlines Center on March 13, 2003 in Dallas, Texas. The Red Raiders won 68-65. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

Andre Emmett, who was fatally shot Monday in Dallas, will forever be a pillar of the Texas Tech basketball program.

Andre Emmett will always be my favorite Texas Tech basketball player.  That’s partly because we were students at Tech at the same time and the players that starred while you were in school have a special connection to your past.

But it’s also because he was one of the most fun Red Raiders to watch.  It wasn’t just that he was the most prolific scorer the program has ever seen, it was because there was a goofy and child-like side of him that came shining through by way of an infectious smile.

That’s why his sudden death early Monday morning outside his home in Dallas rocked the entire Texas Tech community.  We’ve become accustomed to missing Dre the Texas Tech basketball player since his final game in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament.  We had to miss Dre the professional basketball player because virtually his entire pro career was spent overseas.

But we’ve always had Dre the Red Raider great and that iconic smile to look forward to seeing again as we did in March when he was part of the inaugural class of the Texas Tech Basketball Ring of Honor.   Now, because of a senseless act of gun violence, we’ve lost that too.

My favorite memory of Emmett has nothing to do with his basketball skills.  But it perfectly sums up why he was universally loved by the Red Raider fan base.

When I was at Tech, students could sit behind the Tech bench and that was the most popular place to be because it was the best way to watch Bob Knight in the wild.  During one game, Emmett blew a defensive assignment (as he was prone to do from time to time) at the end of the court where Tech’s bench was.

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Of course, he found a way to come up with the loose ball on that possession anyway and proceeded to draw a foul.  Because Tech was in the bonus, he headed to the other end of the floor for his free throws.

As Dre walked away from Tech’s bench, Knight was livid over the missed assignment and was yelling at his star forward to turn around so that he could let him know just how angry he was.  But Andre Emmett never turned around.  He simply walked to the other end of the court as the baseline camera in the arena zoomed in on him as his smile and chuckles only grew bigger the louder Knight shouted at him.

Who else could laugh at the prospect of incurring the wrath of the most intimidating coach in the history of college basketball?  Only Andre Emmett, and that’s why we loved him.

Knight and Dre had a complicated relationship.  But that was likely the case with most of Knight’s players given how hard he was on them.

Still, stop to consider how difficult Emmett’s transition from James Dickey, the man that recruited him, to Bob Knight must have been.  That’s like going from playing for Mr. Rogers to playing for….well…Bob Knight.

After a solid freshman season that saw him put up 7.7 points per game, Emmett could have transferred and found plenty of places to land.  But he stuck it out, bought into Knight’s system (for the most part), and became a superstar in the Big 12.

For his career, he averaged 17.7 points per game.  That included scoring over 20 per game in each of his final two seasons.

He helped guide Tech to two NCAA Tournament appearances and a win in the first round of the 2004 Big Dance.  In the Red Raiders’ 76-73 win over Charlotte, he scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds, and had three steals.

Emmett left Tech as the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer.  His list of career accomplishments is too numerous to include in its entirety.

"According to TexasTech.com, “Emmett was named the Big 12 Player of the Week six times in his career and is second in program history with 10 games with 30 or more points. He would record 16 double-doubles as a Red Raider, including seven during his senior season. Emmett, who was 882-for-1,765 (50 percent) from the field in 128 games, scored a career-high 34 points against Missouri on Feb. 9, 2003 and finished his junior season averaging 21.8 points per game. A 6-foot-5 guard, he is the all-time leading scorer in conference play for the Red Raiders with 1,112 points and 17.7 points per game.”"

What makes Emmett such a foundational figure in regard to the modern era of the program (which I consider to have begun in the fall of 1999 when the U.S.A. opened), is that he was the superstar that helped bring Texas Tech back from irrelevance to national prominence.  Certainly, Knight was the headliner and he got people through the door and to tune in on TV.  But Emmett did the heavy lifting.

By the time Knight and Emmett teamed up in the 2000-2001 season, Tech had missed the NCAA Tournament five-straight years.  What’s more, the program was coming off of four-straight losing seasons, including a miserable 9-19 campaign the year prior.

Fortunately, the two personalities that seemed to be oil and water off the court mixed well on it.  Over the next three seasons, Tech went 68-32 with three 20-win seasons an two NCAA Tournament berths.

It was a return to the national stage for a program that had fallen as far in the late 1990s as it had in the years prior to Chris Beard’s arrival in 2016.  If Bob Knight was the fuse for Tech’s turnaround, Emmett most certainly was the spark that ignited him.

Through it all, Dre never seemed to lose his childish wonder or joy for playing basketball.  That’s a part of ourselves that we should all aspire to maintain regardless of what we do.

Emmett won the 2004 college basketball dunk contest following his senior season with a final round dunk that saw him leap over a large group of kids huddled up in the lane.  In his post-contest interview, he simply said, “Before I get outta here, I gotta say, Dre loves the kids!”

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It was perhaps his most iconic moment in a Tech uniform despite the fact that it was after his career had ended.  How fitting it was that a player who played with so much child-like joy incorporated a group of children in his final appearance in the Double-T.  Yes, Dre loved the kids.  And because he never lost sight of the joy that comes with being a kid, everyone at Texas Tech loved him too.