Nielson and Montague’s no-frills style boosts Cougars

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    By SETH LEWIS

    The king of quiet reclines in a living-room chair, his 6-foot-8 frame spilling onto the carpet.

    The surroundings of BYU forward Eric Nielsen’s west Provo apartment resemble his game: simple, unassuming and full of potential.

    The sofa is the inflatable plastic kind. So is the love seat. A naked light bulb burns from a lamp supported by a stack of cardboard boxes.

    Nope, no frills here — or on the basketball floor.

    “I’m not into the glamorous stuff,” he said.

    Neither is guard Matt Montague.

    But the sophomores share more than just a reluctance for the radical.

    To begin with, both returned from LDS missions last summer — Nielsen from Russia and Montague from England.

    Then there’s the altar-boy goodness that would make Mr. Rogers look like a rebel.

    And, of course, they both fill scrappy, secondary roles that are as invisible as they are essential.

    Just call them the dirty-work duo.

    “They pick up the slack when it’s needed,” guard Terrell Lyday said. “You need those type of players.”

    Especially when those players are almost oblivious to their own stats.

    “Eric and Matt are two guys who have no personal agendas,” coach Steve Cleveland said. “They don’t care if they score only one point. They just want to help the team.”

    Is that rhetoric or reality?

    “I just like winning,” said Nielsen, who averages 4.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 22 minutes a game. “That usually means I have to be quiet and do the quiet things.”

    Case in point: It’s Nielsen’s responsibility to make a quick inbounds pass after opponents score to key the Cougars’ transition offense.

    “Without Eric, we don’t get a lot of those fast breaks,” Montague said.

    “That’s something a lot of people don’t realize. They see the fast breaks. They see Mekeli (Wesley) and Terrell (Lyday) finish them off. But they don’t realize who it came from — Eric Nielsen.”

    Nor do they understand Montague’s behind-the-scenes devotion.

    “He’s got the greatest work ethic of anyone on the team,” Nielsen said.

    And, no, that isn’t rhetoric, either. Nielsen has a story to prove it.

    It was 1997, in the middle of a forgettable 1-25 season. Nielsen and Montague were freshmen, and the team had to cover the width of the court 18 times in less than a minute. And this at the end of practice.

    “Matt was the only one who did it,” Nielsen said. “He went so hard that when he dove for the line to make it in time, he passed out.”

    Then he added: “The rest of us had to keep on running.”

    It’s Montague, though, who has been running lately, leading the Cougars’ up-tempo attack since his Achilles injury stopped bothering him last week.

    His main job now?

    “Get Mekeli and Terrell the ball,” said Montague, who delivers four assists a game.

    Let ’em score. Nielsen doesn’t mind.

    “I would rather have people not pay attention to me,” said Nielsen, the media’s darling after a 10-point, six-rebound showing against Colorado State on Saturday. “Really, I think that’s the way I’ve always been.”

    Often, at the end of games, Nielsen and Montague find themselves next to each other on the bench, marveling at BYU’s 14-3 start.

    “We turn to each other and say, ‘Can you believe this?'” Montague said. “It’s nothing like our freshman year.”

    Sure, the Cougars’ stock is soaring. But some things, like quiet simplicity, remain constant.

    Even in Eric Nielsen’s apartment.

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