A lightly-recruited 6-foot-5 basketball sharpshooter out of Indiana’s Woodlan High School, Noel Emenhiser first stepped onto Livonia’s Madonna University campus for the first time in 2001 to play hoops and pursue a mathematics-related degree.
Twenty-two years later, Emenhiser is still a fixture at the private Roman Catholic university (a development that would have surprised his 18-year-old self, Emenhiser admitted) — and he couldn’t be happier.
“College basketball programs had very little interest in me when I was a senior in high school,” Emenhiser recounted. “The most notable reason was that our team wasn’t very successful. Secondly, I was a little young for my graduating class.”
Legendary Madonna basketball (and Michigan high school) coach Bernie Holowicki had two close friends who coached in Woodlan’s conference. They double-teamed Holowicki, convincing him that the talented Emenhiser was being overlooked and would undoubtedly make solid contributions at Madonna — athletically and academically.
“Coach Holowicki had this uncanny belief that I could be an impactful member of the Madonna community,” Emenhiser said. “I was really attracted to that.”
In hindsight, “impactful” may be an understatement.
During his four-year career as a Crusader, Emenhiser lived up to the promises delivered by Holowicki’s friends, pouring in a school-record 2,213 points while being named a two-time Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete (he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics in 2006).
Emenhiser’s success did not impact his admirable modesty.
“As far as my scoring records, I’d say I was asked to shoot far more than I would have on a team that had more success,” he said. “I played with some great guys; we just always seemed to lack a little bit of depth and we had some injury problems that, looking back, kept us from reaching our full potential as a team.”
Following a one-year post-graduation stint in a Portugal professional basketball league, Emenhiser returned to Madonna in 2008 to serve as an assistant basketball coach for the 2008-09 season.
Since his promotion to head coach in 2009, he has compiled the most victories in the program’s history, having carved out a 232-176 record (including this season’s 18-7 mark). An engaging communicator, the Woodlan, Indiana native has won two Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Coach of Character honors and was named the conference’s coach of the year following the 2018-19 campaign.
Fast-paced style on court
“We like to play at a higher pace,” Emenhiser said, when asked about his coaching style. “If we have a good shot in the first couple seconds of a possession, we take it. Now, if we have to work longer to get a good shot, we will, but we’re not going to walk the ball up the floor and use holding the ball on offense as a way to protect ourselves defensively.
“We think it’s an attractive style that players like to play and it produces skill development and player development.”
Emenhiser’s family, which recently moved from Wixom to Commerce Township, is all-in on hoops. His wife Amy was an outstanding basketball guard at Madonna and his brother-in-law Charlie Henry (Amy’s brother) is an assistant coach for the highly-ranked University of Alabama men’s basketball team.
Charlie Henry and Emenhiser played one year together at Madonna.
The Emenhisers are the proud parents of three children: daughters Ayla (12) and Sage (9); and son Colson (10).
“All of our children have an interest in sports,” Emenhiser said. “They’ve been exposed to it through my job and Amy’s love for it, and they’re around the team a lot and they care how the team does. Colson has been a participant at our summer basketball camp the past few years and last year we started a girls camp that our daughters attended.”
Double the duties
In 2022, Emenhiser was named the university’s athletic director — an important role considering Madonna added a football program for the first time in 2020 and is in the midst of building a first-class stadium thanks to a partnership with Gold Star Detroit FC.
While the football team has struggled to rack up victories during its infancy (the Crusaders have won just one of their first 12 games), brighter days are ahead, Emenhiser assured.
“Any time you start a football program, it comes with challenges,” he said. “We’ve been doing it without our own football facility and our first two seasons were complicated severely by the COVID lockdowns. We were supposed to play our first season in 2020, but the inability to play that season knocked us back, obviously.
“But our coaching staff is doing a great job identifying young men who believe in our vision and want to invest in our culture. Our coaches have us on the right path, but it is hard, it is slow. We’ve made progress; it just may not show up yet in ours wins and losses.”
During the basketball season, Emenhiser starts his days making sure all of the university’s athletics programs are running smoothly. He then orchestrates two- to two-and-a-half-hour practices before overseeing weight-lifting sessions or film work.
“After that, I put myself in a position to support our coaches, help them meet their needs,” he said. “When my work day is done, I try to be as an attentive and present father as I can, helping my kids with their school needs and athletic and academic pursuits. Most nights, once the kids are in bed, it’s time for practice preparation for the next day.”
Never a dull moment
He sleeps well, he admitted — at least most nights.
“After a game, my quality of sleep depends on the outcome of the game,” he said, chuckling. “My days are full and my dual role has it requirements, obviously. But I love being in a position to help people. People are counting on me and I’m not going to let them down.”
Emenhiser admitted he never expected to spend two decades-plus at MU, but he’s happy things have worked out like they have.
“I’ve always been a person who tries not to make certain plans for my life,” he said. “Even getting into coaching wasn’t always a plan and I’ve never looked for a plan to leave or to stay permanently. By an incredible stroke of luck, I’ve been able to coach here for a long time.
“But if the right situation pulled me away from basketball or Madonna, I’d be open to that as long as it was in the best interest of my family. If this continues for another day or another decade, I would consider myself lucky. I’ve never had a master plan regarding where I want to be in one year or in 10 years. The bottom line is, I love doing what I’m doing and I love where I’m doing it.”
Bernie Holowicki’s friends were right: Noel Emenhiser is a perfect fit for Madonna University.
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