Jackson Emery doesn’t mind that the spotlight tends to shine a little brighter on BYU teammate Jimmer Fredette. In all honesty, he is cool with it. He understands that Fredette is the player the nation is talking about. He understands that many believe Fredette is the driving force behind the magic carpet ride the Cougars have been on this season.

The senior guard and former Mr. Basketball in Utah enjoys playing alongside Fredette, and together, they have carried BYU to the No. 3 ranking in the nation this week.

“Jimmer is a great guy on and off the court, and it is a lot of fun to play with him,” Emery said. “He is an extremely competitive player and he makes everyone around him better.”

But this isn’t another story about Fredette, a leading contender for national player of the year honors. This story is about Emery, who plays under the radar but comes to the gym every night ready to do whatever it takes to lead the Cougars to another win.

Yes, he averages 12.6 points per outing, and yes, he has drilled 52 treys this season, but Emery has made his biggest impact on the defensive end of the floor.

Not every college basketball player in the nation jumps for joy about playing defense as if his life depends on it.

Emery is an exception, and boy, what an exception he is, racking up nearly 86 steals this season.

“I take a lot of pride in playing great defense,” Emery said. “That is what I am known for and I don’t want to fail at that part of my game. Having to guard one of the best offensive players on another team is not easy, but I enjoy the challenge.”

Earlier this season, Emery became the all-time leader in steals at BYU. On his way to the top he passed Danny Ainge, one of the greatest players in Boston Celtics history. Ainge had 195 steals in his career. Emery eclipsed the mark in January in a 104-79 win against Utah at the Huntsman Center

“It wasn’t something I planned on doing when I came to college, but it is a great achievement,” Emery said. “To be able to pass a player like Ainge is amazing. He is one of the best players the school has ever had and he is also one of the best players in NBA history. It took a lot of work to get the record and it’s something I am proud of.”

Perhaps the thing most impressive about what Emery has accomplished is that he actually stepped away from the game he loves for a couple of years to serve on a mission in Mexico for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Emery began the mission after his freshman season with the Cougars, and while it had a positive impact on his life, he admits it was difficult being away from basketball.

“It’s tough to take two years off from anything you are good at,” Emery said. “I wasn’t able to be in the gym all of the time practicing and playing games, and it was tough to get used to playing again once I returned to school. I tried to shoot around once in awhile when I was in Mexico, but even though it wasn’t easy being away from the game, the experience was worth it.”

Emery didn’t seem to miss a beat once he did return to playing college basketball. In his first year season back (2008-09), Emery averaged 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while tallying 47 steals. He was named to the Mountain West Conference All-Defensive team for his efforts.

A year later, Emery took his game to another level. He poured in 12.5 points per outing and drilled 85 shots from beyond the arc, the second-highest total in school history. He also set a single-season record for steals with 91 as he earned a spot on the MWC All-Defensive team.

His improvement does not come as a surprise. Following the lead of his childhood sports hero, Michael Jordan, Emery busted his tail to fine-tune his skills.

“I feel like I have gotten better as a player every year,” Emery said. “I worked hard on my game over the summer. I have never been content with what I have done. I took it as a challenge to improve as a player.”

Emery has picked up where he left off this season and has helped put the Cougars in a position to make a tournament run in March.

“Our team has a ton of potential,” Emery said. “We all work hard and we have made the effort to play as well as we can. We feel like we have a team that can go real far in the tournament.”

It remains to be seen if the journey will end at Reliant Stadium in Houston for Final Four weekend in April. But no matter what happens going forward, Emery has no regrets about his experience at BYU.

“It’s been incredible,” Emery said. “I have grown so much as a person and player and the experience here is something I will never forget. Right now, I just want to do whatever I can to help our team win. It’s an exciting time of the year and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish.”