Following an unlikely path, Emiko Hemphill helps spark the Our Lady of the Lake to NAIA tournament

Bouncing between five high schools in four years, Emiko Hemphill never thought college basketball might be an option.

She figured following the family’s journey of joining the military would be her best decision after graduating from Seguin, but she admits she was “just going through the stages,” not wanting “to end up at McDonald’s or something like that”.

Seguin girls’ basketball coach Mollie Langwell envisioned a different path, seeing Hemphill’s athletic potential and pushing her to give college basketball a shot. After Hemphill met with a recruiter, the idea started to catch on.

“I grew up in poverty, so I didn’t really have it in my mind to do anything on my own,” Hemphill said. “But with that, I had to want to be the first to go to college in my immediate family.”

With financial support from Langwell, Hemphill played two years of junior college basketball at Coastal Bend College, then turned that opportunity into a spot at Our Lady of the Lake.

She became the Saints’ leading rebounder with 8.9 per game as a senior this season, helping OLLU (20-10) earn a 16-game winning streak, a Red River Athletic Conference championship and a berth in the NAIA National Tournament vs. Wayland. Baptiste (31-3) at 6 p.m. Friday at Plainview.

“She’s awesome. The way she carries herself is like a grown woman,” OLLU coach Jillian Flores Bennett said. “As an athlete, she’s phenomenal. don’t stop.

Hemphill lived with her grandmother until she was 9, she said, then spent the rest of her youth going back and forth between her mother, aunt or grandmother .

As a result, she never played a full season of high school basketball, bouncing between South San, Brooks Academy, Judson, and Brennan before arriving at Seguin early in her senior year.

“It made her resilient,” Langwell said. “It made her this independent girl who didn’t want much help. We couldn’t be more proud of how she overcame so many circumstances that even us adults don’t know how we handle. C is definitely a special child.

Hemphill fit right into the Seguin basketball program, Langwell said, bringing a fun, energetic personality and “extremely raw” athleticism.

While Hemphill “didn’t really have much basketball skill,” Langwell said, his tenacious offensive rebound brought a “desperately needed” dynamic Seguin, triggering a playoff berth.

“I’ve never had a kid that would go this hard, and she would max herself out until she couldn’t go anymore,” Langwell said. “She was everywhere, and it was amazing.”

Langwell figured the fierceness would translate to college play, so she began pushing Hemphill to schedule visits and take standardized admissions tests, hoping basketball would be her ticket to an education. Hemphill opted to enroll at Coastal Bend, with Langwell and her husband covering the non-grant-funded portion of tuition.

“I knew that was really the only avenue that would get her into school and keep her in school, being a first-generation student,” Langwell said. “We knew if we invested in her, she would return that investment by graduating and making everyone proud.”

Hemphill said she cried during her first week at Coastal Bend, finding the area and the experience “not what I imagined”. But she held on, growing enough over her two seasons to earn a spot near her home at Notre-Dame du Lac.

She also followed the academic side and said she was set to graduate from OLLU in May with a degree in kinesiology and a minor in psychology. She hasn’t decided if she’d like to continue playing overseas, turn to coaching, seek an opportunity in the military, or enter the behavioral therapy field, but she knows she’s created possibilities.

“I want to pat myself on the back,” Hemphill said. “I really wanted to drop out sometimes. It was hard. Some classes here really weighed on me. But not only do I do it for myself, but also for my family. So they are really proud of me.

Hemphill said his senior season hit full steam after an initial meeting with Bennett, as the two explained some of the ways they initially clashed.

Bennett entered her freshman year with little time to prepare, rushing to interview just four days before her wedding and officially starting in September. The Saints did not take well to many of the new rules she put in place upon her arrival, with Hemphill viewing her as a ‘drill sergeant’.

Friction and trust issues combined with a difficult schedule to leave OLLU 2-9, but the tide began to turn when Bennett let his guard down and began to develop more personal connections with the roster, she said. declared.

Behind RRAC Player of the Year Keviona Barber’s 17.7 points per game and Natalia Trevino’s 16.6 average, the Saints have taken off, going through an undefeated RRAC season. After the rocky start to his tenure, Bennett said the winning streak was “surreal”.

“I put on a face like, ‘I’m awesome, this is awesome, that’s all I wanted it to be,’ but it was really tough,” Bennett said. “They really pushed back at the start, so I really had to spend more time getting to know them off the pitch. I knew that over time, once they trusted me, we would get there. It just took time.

greg.luca@express-news.net

Twitter: @GregLuca