The BYU men’s basketball team returned recently from a 10-day, four-game trip to Greece where the Cougars finished 2-2.
The trip marked the team’s first competition since losing starting guards Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery.
“One of the exciting things about when players leave is other players in your program get new opportunities,” said head coach Dave Rose. “It’s exciting to see which of those players take advantage of those opportunities.”
One player who took advantage of his new role was junior forward/guard Brock Zylstra. In the four-game span, Zylstra led the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game.
“Brock had a great trip and hopefully he can continue to build on that,” Rose said.
Zylstra was not alone in leading the team. Junior forward Stephen Rodgers scored 20 points in a loss versus the Greece national team and finished the trip averaging 12.3 points per game. Also among team leaders were senior forward/guard Charles Abouo, with 14.8 points per game along with 8 rebounds, and senior forward Noah Hartsock, who scored 10.8 points and snagged 6.3 rebounds per game.
“The most positive thing about the trip is we played four games and we had four or five players have terrific nights,” Rose said. “Now what we need to do is get four or five of those guys to have terrific games every night.”
The Greece tour started off with the Cougars playing the Athens All Stars. The Cougars controlled the game from the start, leading to a 88-56 victory. The team was led by Abouo, who scored 20, and incoming freshman guard Demarcus Harrison, who ended the night with 15 points and four steals.
In the team’s second game, BYU won in dominating fashion, 115-45 over the ASE Doukas of the Greece B League. In the game, Zylstra scored 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting and hauled in seven rebounds.
To close the trip, the team played in the Arcopolis of Athens Tournament. The tournament featured two national teams ranked in the top-15 in the FIBA world rankings, Greece and Italy.
In the first game of the tournament, BYU faced Greece, who currently ranks No. 7 in the world. On the Greece team was NBA center Kosta Koufos of the Toronto Raptors. The Cougars started off hot and held a 12-10 lead early in the game but quickly fell behind as Greece went on an 18-0 run to end the first quarter. BYU lost the contest 83-54.
In the final game of BYU’s trip, the team faced the Italian national team, which boasted NBA players Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets, Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors and Marco Belinelli of the New Orleans Hornets. BYU was within seven at halftime but fell victim to fatigue in the second half and lost 102-63.
Even with the losses to close out the trip, Rose felt the level of competition helped the team improve.
“I think what you really see is a group of guys that when things are tough, they stay together, they compete hard and they trust each other,” he said. “You see certain guys rise up and help their team win.”
The trip to Greece also left the players with confidence as they prepare to begin the post-Jimmer era.
“We’re going to have a really good year,” Hartsock said. “I don’t think it will be a down year or a disappointment. I think we’ll contend for another conference championship and go back to the NCAA Tournament.”