Jenna Hickey/Daily. Buy this photo.

After playing limited minutes in both her freshman and sophomore seasons, fifth-year forward Emily Kiser could have transferred.

In her first three seasons, she didn’t start once. Playing behind star post players Naz Hillmon, Hailey Brown and Hallie Thome, she could have accepted her spot on the bench or went to a program where she would see more playing time.

“A lot of people told me, ‘You know, you could play other places,’ and I knew that and I knew I could probably play at Michigan,” Kiser said Tuesday at Michigan Media Day. “When you’re building a program, it takes time. And so yeah, it took three years. But trust the process, and I had that kind of outcome last year.”

Last year, Kiser broke out, starting every game for the Michigan women’s basketball team, averaging 9.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 31.2 minutes per game. She scored in double digits 15 times, with four double-doubles, and finished sixth in the Big Ten in rebounds with 258.

For a Wolverine squad that has to contend with the loss of Hillmon’s 21.0 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, Kiser’s return is invaluable.

“Every day, I leave practice and say ‘oh my goodness,’ I am so thankful that she has decided to come back,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “… Her growth and just the role model that she could be for the younger kids in the program is absolutely incredible. And she’s just a joy to be around. I am thankful every day that she’s here and I think it was an incredible decision on her part.”

Kiser brings hustle and defense to the 25th-ranked Wolverines that would have been hard to replace. Last year, she won the team’s Heart and Hustle award for accumulating the most hustle plays during games. Often tasked with guarding the toughest opponent in the post, Kiser’s 30 blocks and 23 steals — plus the charges taken and 50-50 balls won that aren’t reflected on the stat sheet — are crucial returning pieces for Michigan.

Beyond her play in games, Kiser brings leadership and a unique perspective from having nearly every possible experience. Whether that’s sitting at the end of the bench, playing one or two minutes a game or playing for 30 minutes, Kiser has seen it all. And she’s ready to help anyone who asks. More so than most, Kiser understands the importance of every role within the team.

“I guess being a fifth-year on the team, obviously, you’re kind of gonna naturally fall into that (leadership) role,” Kiser said. “But it’s something that I was excited about. Because all those experiences that I’ve had, I can put to use, … just to kind of be that person for them, because I’ve kind of dealt with everything. I’ve kind of been through those struggles, so I can just try and help other people.”

With the Wolverines transitioning from the offensive system that they have run through the post for the past four years, it’s important to have a leader like Kiser who is used to her role changing, one who understands the game on a high level.

“I think she has stepped into a leadership role,” junior forward Cameron Williams said. “… She is a very talented and high IQ player, so having her come back this year has been amazing for our team and for all of our underclassmen, too, who are posts.”

Kiser has developed her basketball IQ for four years at the collegiate level, watching and learning from the great post players who have come before her. Last year, she put that knowledge into practice and had a career year.

“I think one of the greatest things in this program and one of the things that warms my heart the most and makes me smile the most is that our players have shown the ability to buy into the process of improvement and reap the benefits their senior season,” Barnes Arico said.

Kiser is the perfect example of that: She trusted the process and her time came.

Now, for the first time, she’s entering a season as an established player, leader and returning starter. She’s always done whatever the team has asked of her.

Now asked to be a leader, Kiser is ready to step up again.