When Pam Borton made a recruiting visit to the suburban Denver home of Emily Fox almost four years ago, the Gophers women's basketball coach was amazed at what she saw: Fox and her two younger brothers started tossing juggling pins in the living room.
"I felt like I was at the circus," Borton said.
Borton would soon learn it was just another day in the Fox household, where juggling, unicycling and sport stacking were as commonplace as shooting baskets in the driveway.
"My dad actually used to be a clown," Fox said.
Not the office practical joker but a real clown. Bob Fox performed at birthday parties, conventions and seminars, and his children were frequently planted in the audience, awaiting a call to the stage. The clown life was good for Bob. It's how he met his wife, Jill, a journalist who was assigned to do a story on Bob's clown business.
Emily Fox calls the performing skills "circus art" and almost certainly no other college athlete is more proficient in that area than the Gophers junior. She is the living legend of sport stacking, a world record holder at almost every age group on her way to adulthood.
She is not looking to shed her celebrity, only to change it.
"I'm hoping I can be a great basketball player who does sport stacking, not the sport stacker who happens to play basketball," she said. "That's the goal of mine. I think it's coming."
Borton is so convinced of it that she has started mentioning Fox in the same breath with former Gophers All-America Lindsay Whalen.
The 5-9 Fox has natural point guard skills, but the Gophers started using her on the wing and Brittany McCoy on the point last season, similar to the way Whalen rotated around the backcourt.
"We're going to use Emmy a lot like we did Lindsay Whalen," Borton said. "She's going to be on the wing so she can get shots, so she can get to the rim and do a little more scoring for us. But if we need Emmy on the point, she's going to play point."
Just like Lindsay.
Fox developed her point guard skills playing alongside best friend Abby Waner on Denver-area youth teams. Waner was the leading scorer a year ago for Duke, which spent most of the season ranked No. 1.
By the time the pair reached Denver's ThunderRidge High School, Waner was among the nation's top recruits in her class while Fox was drawing moderate interest. Borton liked Fox better than most, developing a bond with the family that paid dividends when Fox's stock rose the summer before her senior year. That's when Fox grew four inches and improved her scoring skills while apart from Waner, who made the national junior team.
"At first it was like, 'Oh no, Abby's not on the team, she's not on the floor,'" Fox said. "But that's when I really grew as a player and as a leader, because I didn't have to defer to her. I think that's where I started to go to the next level."
A number of Division I schools made a late recruiting push, but by then Fox said she was already sold on playing at Minnesota.