LAS VEGAS, Nev. - It didn't take long for Emanuel Terry to turn heads at the NBA Summer League.
Just minutes into the Denver Nuggets debut against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, a game in which he was inserted into the starting lineup, Terry rolled off a ball screen and hammered in a two-handed dunk in traffic.
It's a sight that Railsplitter fans became accustomed to during Terry's illustrious four-year career at Lincoln Memorial University, but the thrill of seeing Terry's seemingly boundless athleticism play out in the flesh was an entirely new experience for the NBA scouts, media and fans in attendance was an entirely new one.
Terry finished with six points (all off dunks), six rebounds and a steal in 16 minutes of work while helping anchor a Nugget defense that held the Timberwolves to just shy of 36-percent shooting in a 70-69 win.
In the immediate aftermath of Terry's breakout performance, NBA pundits started to ask the same question: Can Emanuel Terry earn a full-time spot on the Nuggets roster?
Terry quickly drew comparisons to the likes of NBA veteran Kenneth Faried as well as Torrey Craig, who made a similarly surprising impression during last year's Summer League and earned a two-way contract with the Nuggets after proving to be a hard-working defensive commodity.
In a feature from Nuggets insider Christopher Dempsey, Denver Summer League coach Jordi Fernandez came away impressed with Terry's energy and effort, particularly on the defensive end of the court.
"That high energy," Fernandez said. "I think everybody sees it. He's got that game-changing ability, just rolling hard to the rim to start quarters or after timeouts, he rolled really hard and those plays - maybe you're down a little bit - just bring you up. And he's been on-point, that's what he's done. He came here with no expectations, just worked hard and he deserved it. I'm happy with him."
Terry proved his performance against the Timberwolves wasn't a fluke on Saturday when the Nuggets took down the Boston Celtics 82-69 to move to 2-0 in the Summer League. The 6-9 forward spent 22 minutes on the court, the third-most on the team, and contributed eight points, seven rebounds and a steal. He was the lone reserve to finish with a positive plus-minus contribution in the game.
The skills that Terry has put on display in Las Vegas were discovered by the LMU coaching staff and later nurtured during his time in Harrogate, where the lightly-recruited big man from Enterprise, Ala., steadily ascended from a role player his freshman year to arguably the most dominant big men in the nation as a senior. That, in large part, was the product of a recruiting gamble taken by head coach Josh Schertz that paid massive dividends.
As a freshman during the 2014-15 season, Terry showed flashes of his athletic brilliance while averaging just over four points in less than nine minutes of action per game. As a sophomore, he leapt into the starting lineup and played a supporting role for a Railsplitter team that made the first national championship game appearance in program history.
Injuries limited Terry to just 26 appearances and 15 starts during the 2016-17 campaign, when the Railsplitters made a return trip to the national semifinals, but his career completely took off during his senior year. That season, Terry averaged 17 points, 10.2 rebounds and over two blocks per game to garner South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year, SAC Defensive Player of the Year, Southeast Region Player of the Year and consensus All-American status. He was also later named the Bevo Francis Award winner, which is given annually to the best player outside of the NCAA Division I, and the SAC Male Athlete of the Year recipient.
With Terry leading the charge, the Railsplitters went 32-2, won their sixth consecutive SAC regular-season title and fourth-ever SAC tournament crown, finished the season ranked No. 1 in the country and made their third straight appearance in the regional championship game. It marked LMU's fourth straight 30-win season, all of which occurred during Terry's tenure and ties the NCAA Division II record for most consecutive 30-win seasons.
Terry hopes to continue his solid play when the Nuggets face the Milwaukee Bucks on today in the final pre-tournament game of the Summer League at 9 p.m. ET. Following that, the tournament to crown the Summer League champion begins on Wednesday, July 11, with the championship game set for July 17.
Terry has already made history by becoming the first LMU men's basketball player to earn a spot on an NBA Summer League roster. But if his career arc during his time at LMU is any indication of the path Terry is poised to tread, the road won't stop once the lights go out in Vegas. He just needs the Nuggets to make the same gamble that Josh Schertz made four years ago.