It’s a good thing BYU basketball players have their last names on the backs of their jerseys. With so many new faces this year, it’s going to take some time for both players and fans to get to know each other.
Thirteen names appear on this season’s roster, none of which belong to seniors. In total, head coach Dave Rose brought in seven newcomers to this year’s team.
“It’s the first time in a long time that I have had this many new players,” Rose said during his annual media day address. “That is going to take a lot of patience on our part.”
New players will be required to learn BYU’s offensive and defensive systems. According to Rose, the quicker they can learn the system and feel comfortable playing at BYU’s pace, the better the Cougars will do this year.
“We rely on those experienced guys to help bring the new guys along,” Rose said.
The more experienced players on this year’s roster include Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino, Josh Sharp, Nate Austin, Anson Winder and Kyle Collinsworth.
Rose recently selected Haws, Carlino and Collinsworth as this season’s captains in the hope that these three will help the team achieve its goal of making a deep run for the NCAA tournament. Each of the appointed captains are young, especially Collinsworth, who recently returned from his two-year mission in Russia.
Coming back has been a tough transition for Collinsworth, especially since he is following an impressive return from Haws last season.
“If you take all the returned missionaries that we’ve had in our program over the 17 years that I’ve actually been here, and try to chart each one, I think Tyler was the abnormal return,” Rose said. “He was terrific his first year back in every category: defensively, offensively, being able to rebound the ball and staying healthy. All of those things are real issues for returned missionaries.”
Haws has racked up 1,177 points in his 71 games — the most career points ever for a sophomore at BYU. Danny Ainge is the only other player in BYU basketball history to reach 1,000 career points by sophomore year.
“We have big expectations this year,” Haws said during media day. “We want to win a conference championship.”
In order to make it to the NCAA tournament this year, the coaches and players know they are going to have to make some changes defensively. Rose is transitioning away from the zone defense the team played last season and working on a new man-to-man defense. The zone defense was primarily centered around Brandon Davies because it was under that system that he played his best defense and stayed out of foul trouble.
“In the past we have relied on other players to help out defensively; this year we are practicing as if that help won’t be there,” Collinsworth said.
BYU fans and players are looking at freshman Eric Mika to fill the big-man role left vacant by Davies’ graduation.
“The expectation for Eric is huge,” Rose said. “He has come in with quite a reputation as far as his high school career and his recruiting ranking. … It reminds me of Mekeli Wesley, when Mekeli came in as a freshman, in that we’re going to throw him the ball and we’re going to expect him to make positive plays.”
In order to prepare for this season, Mika has spent a lot of time in the film room with coach Mark Pope learning the nuances of the BYU offense.
“It’s different because everyone is just as big, strong and fast as you are,” Mika said.
Mika played at Lone Peak High School and averaged 6.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.0 assists per game, all while shooting 67 percent from the field. Mika was rated No. 3 among all high school center recruits as a senior, according to ESPN.
“We have good talent,” Rose said. “I think we have a good balance to our roster. We’ll see how the chemistry works and what type of leadership we get and see what type of season we can actually have.”
Exhibition play starts on Oct. 26 against Colorado College. In the meantime, fans will have two opportunities to preview the Cougars. On Oct. 18, BYU will host Boom Shakalaka: The BYU Basketball Showcase in the Smith Fieldhouse. The event includes a three-point shootout, a skills challenge and dunk contests. On Oct. 23, the Cougars will hold the annual intra-squad Cougar Tipoff in the Marriott Center.