Now that BYU’s basketball roster appears to be finalized after Seneca Knight’s recent hiring to transfer to the state of Louisiana, it’s time to consider what kind of team coach Mark Pope has fashioned for this. season.
The Cougars will once again have depth with an intriguing mix of returning players and newcomers. BYU will not only be a strong contender to win a bid for the NCAA tournament, but it could also make the Top 25 for the third year in a row.
Based on the influx of talent, added to the burgeoning talent already on the program, this team could be the best Pope has put together at BYU.
Entering his third season at the helm, Pope has shown an uncanny ability to blend a group of players from different backgrounds into a cohesive unit by getting them to buy specific roles. This list seems to have a lot of the right things to do the magic again.
The centerpiece is senior goalkeeper and team manager Alex Barcello, who announced two months ago that he would postpone his professional career and return to Provo for one final season.
Barcello averaged 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 rebounds per game in 2020-21 and he is the bridge that connects the team’s success from last year to this season.
“Only three other teams have an All-American coming back to their schedule. What he does in the locker room and his leadership is so amazing, ”Pope said of Barcello. “He thinks he can continue to improve and really advance his dream of being an NBA basketball player. He has a sense of difficulty. I think that’s a huge thing for our program. I’ve never won a game, coach at BYU, without Alex Barcello, I wish I didn’t have to try for another year, so I’m super excited about it.
Barcello shot 52.3% from the field, including 47.7% from 3 points and 85.6% from the free throw line last season.
Pope and his team have also added two experienced transfer portal players – Knight and graduated transfer guard Te’Jon Lucas.
Lucas averaged 14.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game in Milwaukee last season and he gives the Cougars another senior guard in the backcourt to fill the gap left by Brandon Averette.
Pope can’t wait to see what Barcello and Lucas can accomplish.
“These guys are so excited to play together. Think about it, both are playmakers. It’s really important for us to have two playmakers on the pitch. We can say that last year we stagnated a bit when we only had one of our two playmakers on the pitch. When we didn’t have one it was really awkward, ”Pope said. “Te’Jon averaged six assists per game. You can count on two hands how many guys in the country averaged six assists per game last year. The space these guys can afford and the play ability they will afford will be truly special. We think it will be a spectacular backcourt.
Lucas assistant coach Cody Fueger said, “He’s competitive. He is ready to go at any time. He has a great mindset to be a great playmaker. His goal is to make his teammates better. This is what he does at a very high level. He’s a guard who has Chris Paul in him. He sees the play in advance. He’s a keeper who can handle it. A great game keeper who will do whatever it takes to help his team win. He doesn’t need to score, but he can score.
Knight is a versatile winger who averaged 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists at San Jose State in 2019-20. He shot 48 percent from the field and won third-team All-Mountain West Conference honors before moving to LSU, although he didn’t play last season.
“I also feel like I bring experience and a competitive nature. I am able to score and create for myself and also for others, ”said Knight. “Whatever Coach Pope says he needs me to do, go out there and perform it. He’s a great coach and I join a great team. I just want to do my part to help. to make this team even better.
The coaching staff are hoping to see several subclasses make a big jump this season – forward Caleb Lohner, guard Trevin Knell, forward Gideon George and guard Hunter Erickson.
Lohner led the team on the rebound last season. After a rough start in terms of 3-pointers, he blistered the net 3 in the West Coast Conference game. Last season Lohner secured a spot on the All-WCC Freshman squad, along with Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, a lottery pick scheduled in the upcoming NBA Draft.
“He’s been a constant contributor with every game, getting better and better,” Pope said in March of Lohner. “But he does it because he cares about the right things. I am so impressed with this young man. I’m telling you, he’s gonna be a star. If he can continue to care about the good things, his trajectory is crazy. It’s awesome.
The Cougars are also returning experienced players like guard Spencer Johnson, center Richard Harward and forward Gavin Baxter, although Baxter has only played nine games in two years with a shoulder and knee injury. . If Baxter can stay healthy, he gives the Cougars a strong inner presence as a playmaker, rebounder and rim protector.
Other intriguing additions to the list include center Atiki Ally Atiki and striker Fousseyni Traoré, two freshmen from the countries of Tanzania and Mali respectively.
Four players recently returned from missions – Guards Trey Stewart, Nate Hansen, Jeremy DowDell and Casey Brown.
How does Pope assess his team as a whole at the end of July?
“I think we have a bunch of guys, pieces that fit together in really interesting ways,” he told BYU Sports Nation on Thursday. “I think it’s becoming a group that is ready to fight for each other and commit to each other.”
WCC defensive player of the year Matt Haarms, who signed with a German side, and Averette, who will play professionally in Cyprus, left last year’s squad.
Meanwhile, Kolby Lee transferred to Dixie State, Connor Harding to UVU, and Wyatt Lowell to Snow College. Three walk-ons are no longer on the schedule as Jesse Wade retired from basketball, Townsend Tripple went on a mission, and Brandon Warr chose to focus on academics.
There are significant gaps to be filled – it’s nearly impossible to replace a 7-foot-3 rim protector like Haarms, of course – but it looks like Pope and his team have managed to bolster the roster as a whole.
BYU, which posted a 20-7 record last season, entered the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years last March. The Cougars lost in the first round to UCLA, who qualified until the Final Four.
“I still have a bitter taste in my mouth right now,” Barcello said.
Returning players from Barcello and BYU, as well as transfers from Lucas and Knight, are hungry to get to Big Dance – and move on.
Lucas chose BYU because “I just wanted to find the best fit, where I can trust the coaches and coaches who can help me develop my game better and reach the NCAA tournament and do a deep run. Coach Pope has big pieces around me and does a great job of getting the most out of his players and developing them in a short period of time.
Expectations remain high at BYU. As usual, Pope is tasked with challenging Gonzaga for the WCC title and returning to the NCAA tournament, with a list reloaded.