Duke-ing It Out

Emilee Daley

Vietnam gets hot in the summer.

We’re talking heavy, humid heat, too, not just dry heat. In the Mekong Delta, a rural region located in the southern part of the country, temperatures regularly can climb above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is stifling even as you go about your daily business. Forget trying to exercise—you might melt in the process.

But for three weeks this summer, deep in the countryside, you would have seen someone exercising dutifully. A tall, dark-haired American woman running every day. The heat affected her—of course it did—but she didn’t let it stop her. Forget the temperature. Forget the humidity. It was dedication. For the woman—Boston College women’s basketball guard Emilee Daley—it was the least she could do.

You might be asking yourself what Daley was doing in Vietnam this summer. After all, at a college full of students finding prestigious summer jobs in the likes of New York City and Washington, D.C., Vietnam jumps out at you. But what Daley was doing in Vietnam was more fulfilling than finding that sweet internship on Capitol Hill.  

Every summer, Coach for College sends American college athletes abroad to developing, rural areas of Vietnam for service. When they arrive, the athletes are paired with bilingual Vietnamese college students who assist them with translations throughout their stay. The athletes teach classes—math, biology, English, and physics—and coach sports like basketball, soccer, and volleyball. The program began in 2008 and has grown in popularity ever since—in 2014, more than 60 athletes traveled to Vietnam to serve as coaches and mentors to the youth.   

This summer, Daley was one of the athletes participating in the program. She packed her bags, got on a plane, and flew across the Pacific to teach math and basketball. And in her downtime, Daley went on runs.

Running through the dead heat sounds like torture, honestly. Ask Daley, though, and she’ll tell you it’s the least she could do. Literally. Mekong Delta is deep in the rural countryside of Vietnam, so there wasn’t exactly a Plex she could use to keep up with her workouts. And Daley had to stay in shape—she’s a college athlete, after all, so she wanted to be ready to dive back into practice when she returned to the United States.

According to Daley, though, the runs weren’t quite good enough. Sure, she may have improved her mile time, but the absence of a weight room left her considerably weaker than before.

“I had literally no muscle on my body,” she said with a chuckle.

She may have sacrificed her strength, but it was definitely worth it. For Daley, the opportunity to teach and coach in Vietnam was like nothing else. She spent hours every day with the children. In teaching the students, she got to know them in the classroom. In coaching the students, she got to know them on the court and see their determination and willpower to improve and succeed. In the span of just a few weeks, the children changed her life—and she changed theirs.

Her decision to give up her summer and serve others did not surprise anyone who knows her. Daley is a big sister with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and has always prioritized service, so her family was impressed but not surprised by her choice. Her mother, Sue, was especially proud of her dedication, flying halfway across the globe to serve others.

When Daley had to leave Vietnam, the goodbyes were emotional, to say the least.

“The last day we were there, they were all crying and saying, ‘We’re going to miss you so much,’” she said.

But there was no denying it—the time had come for her to leave Vietnam and return to the U.S. She left Mekong Delta behind, got on a plane, and flew back to what she considers the greatest city in the world: Boston.

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Daley’s love for Boston isn’t all that surprising. She grew up in Sharon, Mass., a town about half an hour south. Beyond that, she had strong ties to BC while she was growing up. Her father, grandfather, and other relatives all attended BC. None of them played sports—her father was in the marching band, and that was the closest it got—but she still held a soft spot for the Eagles in her heart.

Daley grew up with an older sister, Liz, and a younger sister, Kristen. All three of the Daley sisters are talented basketball players—Liz played at Emmanuel College and Kristen plays for the University of Pennsylvania. Though they are now skilled, everyone has to start somewhere.

When Liz started playing basketball, it opened up a whole new world for Daley. She wanted to be like her older sister, so when she was in fourth grade she joined a team and began playing seriously for the first time.

From the beginning, Daley was hooked on basketball. She’d always been an athlete and loved sports, but basketball quickly became her true passion. She welcomed the challenge of learning and conquering new skills. According to her father, Kevin, she could often be found practicing drills in the backyard after practice had ended, determined to master the skills and push herself. As she improved, Daley grew to love the freedom she felt on the court. Her love showed on her face every time she stepped on the hardwood.

“[I loved] the perpetual smile on Emilee’s face while playing, regardless of the outcome,” Sue said.

Of course, it wasn’t always fun and games. Growing up in a family with two siblings who also played basketball meant that competition was an accepted part of life. While the sisters are now nothing but supportive to one another, when they were younger it was a different story.

“We could never play together one-on-one because we’d always try to kill each other,” Daley said.

Daley left middle school behind and moved on to Sharon High School. There, she played for the Sharon Eagles. It was during her second year of high school that she first got recruited by a college coach, and this experience was eye-opening for her. It was the first time that Daley really considered the possibility of playing in college.

After that year, she transferred to The Rivers School, a private school in Weston, Mass., and repeated her sophomore year. With a stronger education, smaller class sizes, and a better basketball program, The Rivers School was a perfect fit for Daley. She started her playing career there in the 2010-11 season. Over her three years playing for the Red Wings, the team went 69-8, capturing two New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) titles and finishing as the runner-up once.

In high school, Daley, who can play guard or forward, established herself as a dangerous shooting threat with deep range. As a senior, she both won the Coaches’ Award for the women’s basketball squad at The Rivers School and was named a McDonald’s All American. Her former coach, Bob Pipe, valued her contributions all over the court. He praised her ability to lead on the court, defend, and distribute the ball all over the court. Most of all, though, he praised her shooting range.

“Emilee will shoot NBA 3s without even thinking about it,” Pipe told Boston.com in 2013. 

Her leadership and undeniable talent caught the attention of college coaches, but for Daley, there was ultimately only one choice. BC had always been an option in the back of her mind because of her family connections, so when the Eagles began to recruit her, she was only too happy to visit the Heights.

The fact that the Eagles play in the ACC sealed the deal. Sue said that they let Daley choose where she wanted to go without pressuring her, but that the family was overjoyed when she elected to attend BC.

An added bonus? Daley is still close to home, so she can see her family every once in a while.

Every two weeks I try to go home and do laundry,” Daley said. “And the fact that it’s close, everyone in my family can always come to my games.”

With this, Daley made her decision. She was ready to become an Eagle.

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Lauren Engeln is a forward on the German women’s basketball team, SV Halle Lions. She is in her second year with the team, which is currently resting at No. 9 in the Bundesliga. She averages 4.9 points per game while also contributing 2.6 rebounds per game.

Back in summer 2013, Engeln was a redshirt junior at BC. She transferred over from UConn, ready to lend her skills to the Eagles for a couple of years. And her summer roommate was none other than Daley.

Daley was just three weeks out of high school, and, as she put it, still felt like a child when she arrived on campus. But her older roommate quickly made her feel welcome and settled at BC.

“Lauren Engeln and Vic Lesko … kind of took me under their wing,” Daley said. “They are just great people, and they were my first two friends.”

Even with friends and mentors on the team, Daley says the adjustment to playing at the collegiate level was still challenging. She went from being one of the best players on her high school team to being just another young player at BC.

Even so, she still saw playing time during her freshman season. Daley played in 19 games as a freshman, averaging just over 11 minutes per game. She scored 80 points on the year, including 18 made 3-pointers for 54 points.

As a sophomore, Daley began to pick up steam. She played in 30 games, starting 17, and accumulated 262 points over the course of the season. She also continued to show off her shooting range, sinking 49 3-pointers over the course of the season. The best moment of her sophomore season came in January when the Eagles went up against then-No. 13 Duke.

Daley showed up ready to play and totaled 17 points in the game. The Eagles defeated the Blue Devils 60-56, largely boosted by Daley’s late-game heroics. With roughly 2:40 remaining in the game, Duke led BC by five points. Daley scored three straight 3-pointers within one minute to erase the Blue Devils’ lead and secure the victory for the Eagles.

Her family, which tries to send at least one member to every game—both home and away—remember the Duke matchup fondly. It was an explosive performance from Daley, who demonstrated that she had the clutch gene, the ability to use her lethal range to erase deficits and win games for the Eagles.

Even with her early success, Daley feels like she could have been even better as a young member of the team.

I wish I worked harder, but it was a really good eye-opening experience,” she said.

As a junior, Daley saw her numbers dip a little bit. She played in 27 games, averaging just over 14 minutes per game. Over the course of the season, she made 28 3-pointers en route to totaling 163 points. But she has also struggled to stay healthy.

The years of pounding down on the hardwood have caught up to her. Daley has sustained sprained ankles numerous times throughout her playing career, and also struggles with tendinitis. But if she can stay healthy and injury-free, Daley is primed for a superb senior season.

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Some people have superstitious pregame rituals. Daley isn’t superstitious, but she does have a consistent habit before games—taking a nap.

“I love to sleep,” she said.

Who doesn’t? And it works for Daley, so she’s happy to keep doing it. When she comes back to Conte Forum about an hour before game time, she’s rested and ready to play.

When she looks to the upcoming season, there are some games that catch her eye. Daley is pumped for pretty much any ACC game, for example. But there’s one in particular that she is especially looking forward to, though it won’t come for a few months.

On Jan. 22, BC will once again welcome Duke to Conte Forum for another home matchup against the Blue Devils. Daley is itching for that game to come, because she remembers how good it felt to knock the nationally ranked Blue Devils down two years ago. It would feel nice to do that again, to say the least.

If Daley has any goal for the season, it’s to stay healthy. She knows that if she can stay healthy and positive, her senior season will be memorable.

Last season, with an absence of height, Daley played in more of a forward role. This season, the Eagles have more depth with forwards and centers. Mariella Fasoula and Katie Quandt will likely be the most consistent interior presences. With Fasoula and Quandt taking over the interior, Daley can move back to playing guard and doing what she likes best—shooting the ball.

As a senior, she is now in a leadership role on the team. Whereas just a few years ago Daley was a young member of the team, looking up to the seniors and older teammates, she is now the role model for her younger teammates. For Daley, the Boston Big Sister and athlete who spent her summer volunteering with Vietnamese children, the task of setting a good example and being welcoming won’t be too difficult.

“I think the best quality I have is to bond and make the younger players feel comfortable to come up to me and talk to me about anything,” Daley said.

Daley is determined to make this season her best yet. All of the hard work she’s put in since fourth grade—from the countless hours spent in the backyard perfecting her skills to the hard work put in during her high school career to the time she’s spent in the gym at BC—has been leading her to this, her final collegiate season.

Daley is now a role model on the Eagles. She’s a leader on the team, ready to give it her all for one last season. Now that she will be playing primarily guard again, she will be free to use her greatest strength to her advantage and shoot the ball. She’s itching for the season to start up again. And she’s got her heart and eyes set on BC’s conference opponents.  

Duke should be pretty worried right about now.

Featured Images by John Quackenbos / BC Athletics

Annabel Steele

Annabel is the associate sports editor for The Heights. She is from DC and spends her free time trying to memorize every episode of LOST, the greatest show in the history of television.

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