Patrick Emilien doesn’t take many jumpers. But when he does, fans pay attention. They watch his motion — a long-winded process that begins with the ball far behind his head.
Whether the shot goes in or not, the forward’s shooting process is memorable, and coach Kevin Willard admits it.
“Pat gets a little flustered because the first time he shoots the whole crowd [gasps],” Willard said. “Pat’s been a huge, huge addition.”
But stellar shooting isn’t what the graduate student does for Maryland men’s basketball. He often spells Julian Reese and Donta Scott and plays his role as a defensive enforcer at the power forward and center positions.
He doesn’t quite have the offensive capability that Reese or Scott do around the basket and is undersized for the center spot at 6-foot-7. But he remains a useful piece despite those limitations, with Willard calling him the team’s most valuable player on multiple occasions.
While he doesn’t stand out on the traditional stat sheet, Emilien leads all Terps who’ve played meaningful minutes in defensive box plus/minus, an advanced stat that estimates the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player per basketball reference.
“For now, [my primary role has] been having a defensive impact, being a switchable player, a help defender, block shots,” Emilien said.
Emilien, now with his third college team, has evolved over the course of his career. When he finished his tenure with Western Michigan, he shot at almost 33 percent from three before several shoulder injuries altered his shot.
In his fifth year, he has made a successful transition from a full-time starting spot with the Terriers to backing up Reese and Scott at the forward position. But his three-point shot has been absent as he has yet to make a three this season.
“Through college, I’ve had different things that altered my shot, I had two injured shoulders last year,” Emilien said. “It’s affected the way it looks right now, but they’re back healthy now.”
But Maryland doesn’t need Emilien to thrive from three, with other reserves such as Ian Martinez and Jahari Long contributing from long range. He finds offense in other ways.
Emilien has been exceptional at drawing fouls. He has the highest free throw rate, a metric that measures a player’s effectiveness at getting to the line, on the team.
Maryland is 13-2 when the opposing team commits 18 or more fouls, Emilien’s ability to draw contact and land free throws at nearly a 70 percent rate is crucial. It’s also critical for the forward’s scoring production — his free throw points make up almost half of his total points.
When Emilien missed games against Ohio State and Iowa, Maryland put out some of its worst defensive performances of the season. The Terps’ defensive rating, an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions, ranked bottom five for their season in those games.
Before he missed those contests, Willard reported Emilien hadn’t been healthy for a good part of the season. But in recent games against Nebraska and Indiana, he’s been excellent. He forced Cornhuskers forward Derrick Walker into five turnovers while racking up 10 points, seven rebounds, a block and a steal for his best performance off of the bench this season.
He and Julian Reese combined to hold Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis under his season average in field goal percentage and points.
“Happy and healthy — it’s been the difference,” Willard said. “People think I’m nuts, but every game we’ve lost he’s been hurt, he’s really valuable for us.”
His latest performances have validated that opinion. Emilien played a significant role as Maryland picked up three decisive wins against Big Ten opponents.
Emilien’s shooting motion still likely won’t please fans despite his recent success. But as long as the forward continues to excel in the frontcourt as a valuable defensive cog in Maryland’s machine, he’ll remain a key contributor for the Terps.