While some have a more difficult path in life than others, few, if any, have a path that compares to the one of South Carolina Aiken junior Hendrix Emu.
Some have time to grow and mature, but Emu was forced to become a man too early. A 6-foot-5 standout who weighs 195 pounds, Emu defied all odds in becoming the man that he is today.
Emu saw things that most cannot fathom and had to deal with situations that no human should ever have to deal with, and yet he not only dealt with each and every issue that he faced, he thrived.
Born in Nigeria in 1992, Emu was a young child when his father took him away from his mother and to Liberia. He was left with a family friend in a slightly better situation than being around his father.
“My father was a mean person,” Emu said. “He abused me and wanted everything clean and tidy at all times, which is why I have OCD. Once my father came in and a cup wasn’t in the sink. He grabbed the mop and beat me with it. I have a scar on my neck from where he tried to stab and kill me.”
Liberia was a war zone at the time. After his parents divorced and from the time Emu was eight years old until he was 10, he lived with complete strangers.
“Growing up was not easy,” Emu said. “I had to survive on my own. By going through the things that I did, I do not know what it is like to have a father, have a family or to be a child. I was already mature by the time I was eight.”
Instead of attending school and learning things that become the cornerstone of a solid education later in life, Emu’s schooling was much different. In Liberia, he would travel every day by foot to a school two miles away. Emu didn’t learn the basic education that Americans are afforded. He was taught how to survive in the war-torn country.
Emu didn’t have a home-cooked meal and wasn’t able to enjoy going out to eat. Instead, there were days that he literally was starving.
“Sometimes there would be a loaf of bread and I’d wait until I got really hungry in order to eat it,” Emu said. “I was young and didn’t know I should have eaten it sooner. Roaches would be in the loaf and on the bread but I had to eat it in order to not starve. I learned to live on rice. I had it with everything.
“I didn’t have electricity or much food, but I still found happiness,” Emu said. “That came in the form of basketball. People would be surprised, but there was a lot of talent in Liberia. Many don’t have a chance to make it due to their situations, but they were extremely athletic.”
Always as a competitor, Emu did not back down from a challenge on those courts as a kid. No matter how much better someone was, Emu accepted the challenge and competition.
At 12 years old, his father’s friend passed away and Emu was once again uprooted and moved to England, where he was with his mom and two younger sisters. Although he moved away from the war, he was still in a battle to survive. He had to get a job to help support his mom and sisters, and it was not until eighth grade that he started attending school like other students.
“Once my mom found a suitable job, I was able to get back to my passion -- basketball,” Emu said.
While playing basketball, he met a player from Washington University and also met Luol Deng. Both told him he had the potential to make something of himself. Through his hard work, Emu was able to play for the East London Royals (similar to AAU) and won the national championship at 14 years old. At 16, he was selected to play and represent Great Britain but wasn’t able to, as he was not a legal citizen at that time. Instead, he settled for playing for a London-based team.
Emu’s friend played on an AAU team in Philadelphia and invited him to play with them. Eventually, Emu’s time playing with the Richmond Squires enabled more people to see him play and led to him being recruited.
“It was difficult for me to go to certain schools,” Emu said. “I wasn’t qualified academically but it wasn’t because I didn’t want to be. It was family-based. I had to do what I could so we could survive.”
Emu was taken in by Kevin Lahn, who is now his legal guardian. Lahn sent Emu to the best trainers and strength coaches he could find.
“I was surprised at first and told him that I couldn’t pay him back, but all he said to do was to get good grades and stay on the right path,” Emu said. “Kevin always mentored kids in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He heard about me when I was living in Camden, New Jersey. I was supposed to go to Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, but it was the No. 1 murder capital.
“Kevin heard about me through a friend and knew I was trying to make something of myself. Without ever watching me play, he helped get me to where I wanted to be. Kevin did the same thing for my brother, Sharrif Floyd [now a member of the Minnesota Vikings]. Kevin adopted both of us.”
Emu attended the The Miller School, which is known for producing top student-athletes. Several athletes that he played with are now at Division I schools.
“I am more distant from the world because I’m afraid of how people will judge me because of what I’ve been through,” Emu said.
Now in his second year with South Carolina Aiken, Emu has continued to learn and excel on and off the court. Last season, he played behind All-American Paul Larsen and managed to learn from him.
“Paul was the first person I met here and he told me I have what it takes,” Emu said. “Paul helped teach me how to be a man among men. We are similar in that we are both quiet guys that lead by example.”
When he arrived on campus, Emu sported No. 0 but has since changed to No. 23.
“I chose No. 0 because I came from nothing,” Emu stated. “I was a child that people thought would never succeed and one they said should be aborted. People thought I was a waste of time. I chose it because it reminded me of who I am and where I came from.
“This year, I switched to No. 23 because all the greats wear it. I wanted to switch to Paul’s jersey number, but he said I couldn’t follow in his footsteps -- that I had to do it my own way.”