BILLINGS - Emma Blakely has adjusted to a change of scenery multiple times over the past four years, but this year she put on her final uniform.
She attended Missoula Sentinel High School where she played basketball before transferring across town to Hellgate for her senior season, where she led an extremely young Knights roster to a third-place finish in the 2019 State AA tournament.
“She was a huge asset to us that year," said Knights head coach Rob Henthorn. "We always focus on attitude. In terms of attitude you lead by example and she again had that attitude where no whining, no complaining, just go play the game.”
After graduating high school Blakely decided to attend MSU Billings, where she walked onto the basketball team and got better each and every week.
“She actually became kind of a key element for us down the stretch, especially on defense," said MSU Billings head coach Kevin Woodin. "It was really a pleasure to coach her last year.”
At the end of last season, Blakely played so well that the coaching staff offered her a scholarship that would pay for her full tuition.
However, in a surprising move for a teenager, Blakely declined the offer and made another big decision.
“It was sad, Emma is the kind of player that you want to coach," said Woodin. "You know, she’s going to give you everything she’s got in practices and games, there’s no faking about it, etc. It’s genuine effort and she’s a really good team player and just a great person.”
Blakely is changing jerseys for the fourth time in four years, but this time she's swapping her Yellowjackets gear for a pair of scrubs as she'll pursue a career in nursing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are trying to get all the help that we can because the hospital is at capacity," said Blakely. "They are having to turn people away because there’s no room, and I just hope that people don’t stray away from working (in healthcare) during this pandemic because you can really help change individuals' lives.”
Over the summer, Blakely took 15 credits and completed her certified nurses assistant certificate at Flathead Valley Community College. She's now working at the Billings Clinic, which is one of the biggest coronavirus hot spots in the state.
“I was already cautious with COVID to begin with, but when you walk into the first room to help treat a patient with COVID, it’s a completely different experience because you get to see that patient and you’re in the midst of everything,” said Blakely.
For many, this move may seem unique for a young individual with a promising future on the court, but those who know Blakely best aren’t shocked at all.
“It goes to show you that Emma is very passionate about what she does, whether it be on the court or off the court," said Henthorn. "If she has decided to help others then she’s going to be in hook, line and sinker forever.”
Blakely will finish her prerequisites at MSU Billings before applying to the nursing program at Montana State in Bozeman.