High School Sports

Why BEA’s Mark Eminhizer transformed into an imposing post presence

After Bald Eagle Area’s season opener last year, Mark Eminhizer stood in the kitchen of his family’s home and listened to his father rip into him from the living room.

Eminhizer had started at center for the Eagles’ boys’ basketball team and struggled in his team’s 48-44 loss to Penns Valley last December. He let passes go through his hands. He scored only one point. He knew he didn’t play well. He said as much when he arrived home before his father started talking.

“I don’t know why, but I started unloading on him,” his father, Mark, said.

It lasted for about five minutes — the son standing there absorbing his father’s criticism after the disappointing effort. His father told him that he would lose his starting spot if he didn’t start catching the ball and providing some production inside. That he needed to work harder if he wanted to play basketball in college. That he was better than what he showed that night.

More than one year later, standing in the Eagles’ gym with sweat rolling down his face, the younger Eminhizer traced his transformation into an imposing post presence back to that night. If his own father said he may have just lost his starting spot, the son thought, he needed to do something to improve. Eminhizer never put everything together last season, but he dedicated this past spring and summer to basketball ahead of his senior campaign.

By the season opener against Penns Valley this year, the 6-foot-8 Eminhizer was ready to go.

“The old Mark is gone,” BEA coach Bill Butterworth said. “He became a player.”

It was only two years ago that Eminhizer wouldn’t even shoot out of fear of missing or getting blocked. He chose to pass the ball back out to his teammates on the perimeter. He didn’t have confidence on the court. Now, he’s averaging 6.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game despite some stiff competition.

His father helped him overcome the mental hurdles, telling him to play with a chip on his shoulder. This past spring, when they went to tournaments, his father said to “let it fly” on the court. He didn’t want his son to worry about failing. The father — who stands 7-foot and weighs nearly 300 pounds — wanted to see the player no one else did, the kid who didn’t back down during their battles in the driveway.

“I tell him, ‘Go out, pretend they’re all me and go out and beat the crap out of ’em,’ because that’s pretty much how he plays me,” his father said. “He would get physical.”

Eminhizer honed his skills on his own in the driveway, then put in work with his father in the offseason. His father would rebound for him, feed him entry passes and try to miss shots to develop his rebounding ability. They worked on his game on both ends of the floor. The driveway sessions were critical to his improvement along with an intense weightlifting regimen and private lessons in Altoona. He was driven to make the most of his senior year. He didn’t want to sit the bench anymore. And he still planned to continue his basketball career at the college level.

So he packed more basketball into his summer, playing in AAU games and making trips to individual showcases, where college coaches could see potential recruits compete. He and his father would get up at 4:30 a.m. and drive for hours to small colleges in every corner of the state. It was a fun adventure for the father and son, who spent a lot of time together on the road and in hotels.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to help my son,” his father said. “If he’s committed to do this, I told him I would get him there.”

Eminhizer called his father and mother his heroes. He learned about work ethic from his parents, who both work “70-plus hours a week.” He looks up to them and wants to make them proud.

So it hurt when his father started unloading on him after last year’s season opener against Penns Valley.

“I felt so bad. I almost cried,” Eminhizer said. “For the first time, I didn’t feel like I was good enough for my dad.”

His father knows he can be hard on his son — he later felt bad about his harsh critique — but he also knew where his son wanted to go. He only knew one way for him to get there: through hard work. The younger Eminhizer said his father’s words made him work “10 times harder.”

That night marked the start of Eminhizer becoming a different player.

“If I didn’t have that moment, I probably wouldn’t be the starting center right now,” Eminhizer said. “I’d be sitting on the bench all upset.”

Instead, Eminhizer is having fun on the court this season.

In the opener against Penns Valley, Eminhizer finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocks to help the Eagles to a 43-30 victory. This time, after the game, Eminhizer knew he played well. He was happy. His parents were proud.

The 6-foot-8 center followed that effort up with 10 points and 12 rebounds in a 58-51 win over Philipsburg-Osceola. He added a handful of blocks, including one rejection that had his usually reserved father clapping and cheering. He came “out of nowhere” to swat the shot away, bringing a smile to his face and generating some excitement for the Eagles fans in Philipsburg.

The Rams and Mounties became the first opponents to see what Butterworth saw during the offseason.

The old Mark is gone. He became a player.