In turbulent season, Venter a stabilizing leader

Growing up with divorced parents, Drew Venter is no stranger to the unpredictable. So it’s only fitting that the 21-year-old junior has been a consistent force on the Emerson basketball team throughout its erratic and at times controversial season.

As Emerson’s floor general, Venter led the team in minutes, rebounds, assists, and steals while starting all 26 games at point guard.

But while Venter has become a fixture with the Lions, the junior hasn’t always experienced this much stability.

Venter moved around frequently during his childhood. He lived in Allston, Brookline, Dorchester, Mattapan, Milton, and Roxbury under the custody of his mother before moving in with his father in Mansfield prior to his sophomore year of high school.

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Venter said his nomadic lifestyle had no effect on his ability to play basketball, but he admitted that it added another burden to the already difficult balancing act that a typical student-athlete endures.

“Especially because of my situation, two households or whatever, it was hard. But I just had to get through it because that’s how we grew up,” he said. “We were never taught to feel sorry, and I guess that’s how I play on the court, really. You just get it done, and that’s one of the testaments to being a man, my father always said.”

This philosphy has been evident with the 5-foot-11 guard.

As a teen, Venter’s Amateur Athletic Union basketball team won back-to-back state championships. The guard traveled around the country and competed against talents such as Romeo Miller (Lil Romeo) and DeMar DeRozan, now an NBA guard for the Toronto Raptors and a participant in the 2011 NBA Dunk Contest.

Venter’s college recruiting profile even appeared on ESPN’s website in 2008.

Throughout the college search, Venter said his primary focus was on academics. Emerson was at the top of his list, the broadcast journalism major said,  because he strives to break into the sports entertainment field. But he said he was initially waitlisted. This forced him to seek other options, including Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern.

Patience paid off for Venter, though. He was admitted and came to Emerson in 2008, at which point he decided to continue his career on the hardwood.

Venter quickly established a close relationship with former Emerson head coach Hank Smith, who he described as a motivator. He also formed a bond with former Lions captain and 1,000-point scorer Jeremy Shannon, who immediately took the newcomer under his wing.

“[Shannon] was really accepting and he wanted to help me in getting started for basketball,” Venter said. “He was really friendly even though we played the same position, which was cool.”

The resulting friendship not only helped Emerson go 37-17 from 2008 to 2010, but also generated plenty of intense practice battles.

“When it comes to him playing, he’s always going to play 100 percent,” said Shannon, who describes himself as a big brother to Venter. “The thing that stuck out to me was his defense. He always pushed me in practice. Whenever he would play me tough, though, I would say ‘don’t stop.’”

And he hasn’t.

Venter’s pass-first mentality and defensive prowess have earned him the confidence and trust of his teammates.

“Coach [Smith] always drilled him in practice about how he wasn’t Jeremy [Shannon] and how he couldn’t do the things that Jeremy could,” teammate Nate Firn said. “But I wouldn’t trust anyone as much as Drew right now with the ball.”

But Venter’s road to prominence at Emerson hasn’t always been smooth.

Seven games into his freshman season, Venter dislocated his shoulder against Emmanuel College while battling for a rebound. Exiting the Brown-Plofker Gym on a stretcher, Venter’s basketball future was uncertain. It was the seventh time that he had dislocated his shoulder, an injury that he says still sometimes hinders his range of motion and ability to work out.

Despite the injury, though, Venter said his biggest obstacle came this season when his respected mentor Hank Smith vacated his position as the team’s head coach.

When asked about his proudest moment as a player at Emerson, Venter said, “Being able to say I was coached by Coach Hank Smith, being in this era. Everybody who comes after can never experience that.”

Venter also said he still can’t help but reflect from time to time on his 17-point effort versus Wheaton College during his freshman year, which he said made an early statement to Smith and the rest of the team.

Now, he said, he tries to ignite the same passion in his teammates that Smith ignited in him.

“I’d like to think [I’m a leader]. I don’t know what other people think of me, but you can’t live your life on the perspective of people who really don’t know you.”