Jonae Guest, a senior sociology major, has earned more time on the court this season for the Eastern Mennonite University Royals. Coach Kevin Griffin praises her care for others, her teamwork and attitude as having made a special impact on the program. (Photos by Scott Eyre)

After summer conditioning, EMU’s Guest finding home on court

It took Jonae Guest nearly all four years to do what any college basketball player should be able to do.

Guest logged at least 24 minutes of playing time in each of Eastern Mennonite University’s last six games. In the last three, she played no fewer than 29 minutes and registered double-doubles in the Royals’ win over Hollins on Saturday and loss at Emory & Henry on Jan. 14. The 32 minutes she played in EMU’s loss last week at rival Bridgewater was a career-high — she also had a career-best 25 points in the contest.

Before this season, she only played more than 20 minutes in a game twice.

 “I wasn’t in shape when I was younger,” Guest said Monday before her team’s practice at Yoder Arena. “I had to get in shape to stay in the game longer.

Jonae Guest grabs a rebound during a game against Roanoke College.

“My play wasn’t the problem, it was my endurance. I had to run a lot because I would get tired so easily. I feel like running over the summer — running the track and running the hills — as much as I hated it, I feel like it’s helped me now.”

EMU coach Kevin Griffin said Guest has dropped between 35 and 40 pounds over the course of her career.

Standing at 6-foot-2 with the ability now to stay on the court for the majority of a game, Guest gives the Royals a much-needed presence in the paint.

She’s the team’s only true center.

“She’s played a lot here lately,” Griffin said. “Some of it is that she has played her way into better shape and some of it is that we’ve been in foul trouble and needed her out there, but she’s done a great job of adapting and hanging in there.”

The Potomac High School product is averaging 13.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in Old Dominion Athletic Conference action — both numbers lead the Royals.

As the lone senior on the team, Guest said she felt like she had to take charge both on and off the court.

Leaning on her leadership and consistent play, EMU is 10-6 overall and 5-3 in the ODAC with eight regular-season games left. The Royals are at Shenandoah tonight for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Griffin said Guest is the constant on the youngest team he’s ever had in his 12 seasons at EMU.

“There is not a better kid in terms of when she walks in the room or the gym or down the hallway,” Griffin said of Guest. “She always has a smile on her face. I don’t remember a practice where we’ve had to wonder if she’s had a good day or a bad day and that’s huge.

“When you’re doing this and it’s rainy out and have been at this for four months and the kids are tired and the weather stinks and there’s a kid like that on your team who can relate to everyone while bringing a positive energy with a smile on her face, that’s huge. In my mind, that’s some of the best leadership we get out of her.”

Junior guard Myneshia Walker, who shares the same major — sociology — as Guest, said her teammate set the tone for EMU’s 2016-17 campaign when she spent extra time running to get in shape during the summer.

“Her game has grown a lot over the last couple of years,” Walker said. “She always stays after practice to put in the extra work and then when she lost all that weight and I saw her after coming back from the summertime, I was like, ‘Wow, Jonae must be serious this year.’”

While wearing a wearing a knit hat with the logo of her favorite NBA team, the San Antonio Spurs — a team synonymous with leadership having won five NBA titles under coach Gregg Popovich — Guest said she’s embraced and enjoyed her leadership role.

 After graduation, Guest said she wants to use her sociology degree to work with children.

“Being in a leadership role, you’re forced to talk more and to lead by example,” Guest said. “Now I’m more used to talking with people and being in front of people. I think having that leadership background will help me, especially with what I want to do after graduation.”

Griffin said whatever Guest does beyond basketball she would succeed at.

“She’ll be fantastic,” Griffin said. “She worked our basketball camps every summer, so I’ve watched her in that role and seen her ability to relate. Of course when you’re working with little kids and you’re 6-foot-2, they’re naturally drawn to you. But, she also carries herself in this humble and very welcoming way.”

In the meantime, Guest said she wants to lead EMU to a strong finish and go on a run in the ODAC tournament.

“Every player wants to go to the tournament and I still think we have a good chance,” Guest said. “Anything can happen in ODAC play. Any team can win. Any team can lose. If we play the way we’re supposed to, I’d love to win one. We still have some kinks to figure out, but if we play how we’re supposed to play, if we give that energy, we’ll be the shocker in the ODAC.”

Regardless of what happens during the stretch run, Griffin said Guest would leave his program in a better place.

“The thing about Jonae is that she is genuine,” Griffin said. “Her care for her teammates, our program and this school is real. Her care for people is real. My hope for our team is that it rubs off on them.”