Men’s basketball team welcomes new power players

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    By Martin Harris

    BYU”s men”s basketball team will have several new names on the roster this year.

    Mekeli Wesley, Terrell Lyday, Trent Whiting, Nathan Cooper and Nate Knight are gone.

    Michael Vranes is unable to return for medical reasons. Derek Dawes – Wesley”s backup – is serving a mission in New Hampshire, and Jacob Chrisman is redshirting because he wants to focus on baseball.

    Several spots have became available and head coach Steve Cleveland has found the players to fill them.

    Mark Bigelow and Shawn Opunui have recently returned from missions and are expected to be leaders on the floor.

    “It”s a whole new world to be playing at a big Division I program at a big time university,” Opunui said.

    Bigelow made a name for himself his freshman year in 1999. He led the Cougars in scoring, averaging 15.0 points per game.

    His performance won him the Western Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year award, and he was named to the All-WAC Second Team.

    Bigelow also set a school record in a game against Arizona, when he stole the ball from the Wildcats nine times.

    “I would rather have the team honors like a championship over individual honors,” Bigelow said.

    Opunui was an all-state point guard at Orem High School before leaving on a mission. He shot better than 90 percent from the free throw line and 40 percent on three-point attempts.

    “I want to contribute to this team,” Opunui said. “I want to prove I”m a Division I player. I want to follow Bigelow”s steps and be freshman of the year.”

    Bart Jepsen and Jesse Pinegar are coming off redshirt seasons last year. Jepsen played his freshman year in 1997-98 before leaving on a mission to New York. At Roswell High in New Mexico, he averaged 15 points per game and 10 rebounds per game.

    Pinegar has not played organized basketball since his junior year in high school. He sat out his senior season due to a shoulder injury. Last year he redshirted and in June he re-injured his shoulder. Team doctors say he will not be ready to play until at least December.

    BYU also has three new transfer players on the roster. Two of the players – Jake Shoff from Weber State and Ricky Bower from the University of Wisconsin – cannot play this season because of transfer rules. The third player, Jon Carlisle, came to BYU after last playing on the University of Utah”s Final Four team in 1998.

    Carlisle is eligible to play this season but will be a junior because of Mountain West Conference rules requiring student-athletes to lose a year of eligibility when transferring between member schools.

    It is likely however that Carlisle will appeal the rule because the Utes took away his scholarship when he returned from his mission.

    Carlisle averaged 17.3 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game as a senior at Brighton High School.

    Two freshmen have also joined the team. Jared Jensen played at Fremont High in Plain City, Weber County, and Jimmy Balderson played prep basketball in Alberta, Canada.

    “College basketball is more detailed,” Jensen said. “It”s a big jump to college ball, both physically and psychologically. I want to adjust and get into the program as quickly as possible.”

    Jensen was named the 2001 Deseret News Mr. Basketball after scoring 25.8 points per game and 13 rebounds per game in high school. He joins Eric Nielsen, Pinegar and Jepsen as the team”s 6”9″ power forwards.

    “I think we (the team) will be pretty good,” Jensen said.

    Balderson will be walking on the team this fall. At 6”5″, he is Cleveland”s tallest option at point guard. Balderson put up great numbers in high school, averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. He also shot 54 percent from the field and 91 percent from the free throw line.

    “We have some great players on this team, this year,” Bigelow said.

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