By Jordan Christiansen
BYU men”s basketball player Lee Cummard sounded bored talking about his summer.
“I just got in the gym, got in the workroom, tried to improve my game as best I can,” said Cummard, the preseason MWC Co-Player of the Year. “Nothing in particular, just all-around trying to get better. I had a very similar offseason other than the NBA experience.”
The NBA experience – the one where you fly around the country, play with some of the best college-aged basketball talent in the world, schmooze with the NBA”s who”s who and get a taste of something millions of boys around the world only dream about. Other than that, it was just a normal summer for the BYU forward.
On the other hand, after deciding to return to Provo for his senior year while teammate Trent Plaisted opted to turn pro, Cummard has found himself as the undisputed leader of a team that has been Mountain West Conference champions two years in a row.
“I”ll be one of the leaders just because I have the most experience,” Cummard said. “The younger guys will look to me. I”ll play similar to the way I played last year and just try to help the team win.”
Cummard led the Cougars in scoring (15.8), field-goal percentage (.569), three-point percentage (.472) and blocked shots (1.0) while ranking second in rebounds (6.3), assists (3.5), steals (0.9) and free-throw percentage (.857) on the 2007-08 team that went 27-8, the second-most wins in school history.
The man already fills up a stat sheet, but is there anything he”s missing?
“I”m pretty consistent at the half-court shot now,” Cummard said. “You might see a few of those in games this year.”
A couple half-court heaves would make the fan-favorite forward more popular, complimenting the “Lee for 3” gesture, arms raised after hitting a 3-pointer.
“I did it as a freshman to try and keep me energized,” Cummard said. “Now the fans like it so I continue to do it for them. It”s a lot of fun. A lot of fans come out and support us so I like to have fun with them.”
When most Cougar fans think of the men”s basketball team and fun, however, the first name to pop in their heads is Jonathan Tavernari. The 6-foot-6-inch junior forward is the only other returning starter for the Cougars after enjoying a fun summer of his own.
Tavernari played for the Brazilian National Team, participating in Olympic Qualifiers in Athens, Greece. The Brazilian forward, who ranked third on the team last year with 13.3 points per game, is a versatile athlete who never saw a three-pointer he didn”t like and improved his defense by strides as the season progressed.
With the wings covered for the Cougars, two gaping holes appear at guard and center with Plaisted playing in Italy and the graduation of guards Ben Murdock and Sam Burgess. BYU coach Dave Rose has left those spots open, giving everyone a chance to fight for a starting position throughout the preseason.
“Right now, if you”re talking about what we”re focusing on more now, it”s probably equal,” Rose said, speaking of filling the empty positions. “When you look at conference champions throughout the country, they”ve got good point guards and good centers. That”s a common denominator in all those championship teams, so that”s what we need to focus on.”
Down low, junior Chris Miles (6-foot-11, 235 pounds) will likely start at center. With a quick spin move in the post and the ability to face up to the basket, Miles is best defined as a “hustler who will come out every night ready to play,” teammates said.
As for the guard positions, Jimmer Fredette, a surprise off the bench for the Cougars as a true freshman, should start at the point or shooting guard position. Fredette, a natural point guard, has been working on his mid-range jumper and ball handling to be prepared for whichever role is given him.
Fredette”s backcourt partners will likely be Lamont Morgan, Jr., or Michael Loyd Jr. Morgan is a 5-foot-10-inch flash of lightning who redshirted last season. Loyd saw action in all but three games last year as a true freshman backup to Murdock.
“Unlike football, we have a bunch of exhibition games,” Rose said. “So after each one of those exhibition games will be another evaluation process.”
With familiar foes such as senior Luke Nevill of Utah, senior Brandon Ewing of Wyoming, and seniors Wink Adams and Joe Darger of UNLV, this year”s conference race could be the closest in recent memory, making a three-peat for BYU not out of the question but a question, nonetheless.
“We expect to win the league; that”s what our coaches talk to us about,” Fredette said. “Everyone”s going to be really, really strong this year. There will be great competition, a lot of close games this year.”