The BYU men’s basketball team has been back on the hardwood for the past few days, highly anticipating the upcoming season.
“The competitive part of our practices are probably as good as they’ve ever been,” Rose said.
Since Rose took over in 2005, BYU basketball has risen to a higher competitive level.
The Cougars are coming off an NCAA tournament run and a 29–6 overall record from last season and look to continue to move forward. In moving forward, the team has to replace two starters from last season, last year’s seniors Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo.
But familiar faces from last year’s team are ready to step it up in Hartsock and Abouo’s absence. Seniors leading the team this year include Brandon Davies, Brock Zylstra, Craig Cusick and Stephen Rogers.
“All of us feel we have the urgency to step up and do better than we did last year,” Zylstra said.
Matt Carlino, Anson Winder, Josh Sharp and Nate Austin made names for themselves as freshmen last year, and their return helps maintain the depth the Cougars had last year on the team. Also returning is the much-anticipated Tyler Haws, who is back from his LDS mission in the Philippines and cannot wait to play. Haws exploded his freshman year, quickly becoming a fan favorite with his accuracy at the free throw line.
“I’m ready,” Haws said. “Wherever Coach needs me, I’m ready to contribute and help out in anyway I can.”
Along with a solid group of freshman, the Cougars have brought in two new junior college transfers: Agustin Ambrosino, a 6’8” forward from Salt Lake Community College and Raul Delgado, a 6’2” guard from Western Nebraska Community College.
Besides being a little sore after the first few days, the newcomers also have to wrap their heads around the system. Rose said the team is trying to focus on what these new players are doing well.
“The most important thing for us right now is to emphasize the positive plays they make in practice,” Rose said.
Senior Brandon Davies said it has been encouraging to see not only the new players coming in willing to be coached, but also the team as a whole.
“Everyone is willing to learn and trying to get better each day,” Davies said.
Point guard Matt Carlino, seeking to be the motor behind BYU’s fast-paced tempo, also likes where the team is at.
“We look farther ahead now than we did this time last year,” Carlino said.
A new NCAA rule has been a big part of this progression. Over the summer, BYU coaches were allowed to spend two hours per week with a player.
The change in the age of missionary service made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also presents a new situation to the basketball team. This policy will affect next season, and the team has to prepare now for changes in recruitment and LDS missions.
“It has a lot of effect on our 2013 class, our 2014 class, our 2015 class that we are involved in,” Rose said. “What it basically does is that it gives every LDS player that has a desire to serve a mission another option. My role here as head coach is to support their decision.”
Another element that has affected the Cougars already this year is injuries. Chris Collinsworth had to end his college basketball career over the summer due to injuries. Nate Austin had shoulder surgery over the summer and recovered well but has had to sit out practices the last two days due to a deep thigh bruise last week. Stephen Rogers is still suffering some setbacks from a knee injury, and Rose said there is a possibility he could miss the season; but he remains optimistic.
“Stephen is doing a lot better,” Rose said. “He’s got a knee brace that is supposed to help change the impact. Everything he has done the last seven days has not caused swelling, and that is the issue.”
Not only will BYU fans see a different team this year, but they will be seeing it from a different view. Over the summer the Marriott Center went through renovations, including changes to the student section.
The benches from the student section were removed and replaced with new, more comfortable seats. Then the student section was moved to the west side, behind the basket, in portals M through S. The students will be closest to the visiting team’s bench, because the benches have been moved from the south side to the north side.
While students will have to wait and see what the new change is like, Carlino feels it could be effective.
“It’s different when you got the other team in your ear,” Carlino said.
A new sound system and remodeled men’s and women’s locker rooms were other recent additions to the Marriott Center.
While the team welcomes the changes, it is just ready to play basketball.
“We can’t wait to get going,” Davies said. “It’s been too long.”
BYU fans who also feel it has been too long will get their first chance to see the team Oct. 24 for the Cougar Tipoff at 7 p.m. and then Oct. 27 for the first exhibition game against Southeastern Oklahoma State.