BYU men’s basketball head coach Dave Rose knew that this season would be tricky as the team featured just three upperclassmen and welcomed in five true freshmen.
“Well (the young players) need to have a real impact for our team,” Rose said. “It’s crucial that a group of those guys perform at a real high level and a consistent level. We need to find our core guys and see who we are. We’ve got a lot of young inexperienced guys that have to become a part of us and our core and what we do.”
Senior guards Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer – who haven’t been without their own struggles this season – will obviously remain the two most important in the Cougars’ offense. Junior forward Kyle Davis also seems to have solidified himself in the starting lineup after averaging a double-double through three games (12 points and 13 rebounds per game).
Back in September at the team’s annual Media Day, sophomore center Corbin Kaufusi said that he wasn’t “the new guy” anymore. He added that with experience comes more responsibility.
Thus far that experience has been showing. Kaufusi has been excellent for the Cougars thus far. He’s averaging 12.3 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game and 2.3 blocks per game in just 21 minutes.
Kaufusi credited technical improvements.
“I’ve been very picky about the way I move my feet,” Kaufusi said. “I credit it all to having coaches and teammates who are willing to work with me.”
Kaufusi averaged just 3.4 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game and one block per game in 16.5 minutes for the Cougars last season. His nearly nine point and five rebound improvement currently leads the team.
While his statistical improvements are noteworthy, Kaufusi said the focus is team chemistry.
“The biggest thing is just sticking together as a team,” Kaufusi said. “Some guys may miss shots, or miss rebounds, but we need to be able to get on to the next play. We’re very resilient that way.”
Another player making strides for the Cougars is sophomore forward Jamal Aytes.
Aytes is a transfer from UNLV. He struggled with an ankle injury early in the season and missed BYU’s first game against Utah Valley University.
The 6-foot-6-inch forward returned against Long Beach State and was one of the lone bright spots in a Cougars’ loss that included 13 missed free throws and 24 turnovers. Aytes played 14 minutes and scored eight points on 80 percent shooting and grabbed four rebounds.
Aytes said that it felt good to return to the court.
“I just hoop, man,” Aytes said before the Adams State game. “I just go my hardest. It did feel nice to be able to play well. I didn’t know if I could do that still, but it feels good knowing that I can.”
Aytes followed his performance against Long Beach State up with a career-high 11 points on 5-7 shooting in 18 minutes against Adams State.
Aytes combination of size and speed makes him a bit of a tweener for the Cougars. He’s too bulky to be a guard and too short to be a forward. But he’s been able to provide a spark both offensively and defensively for the team.
Kaufusi said that he was a big fan of Aytes’ game.
“I love the way that Jamal plays,” Kaufusi said. “His style is a little different. It’s refreshing and it changes up the way that we play a little bit.”
Freshman guard Nick Emery is also establishing himself early in the season.
The 6-foot-2-inch guard is averaging 23 minutes a game and shooting 42 percent from the field.
Emery struggled in the loss to Long Beach State. He scored just two points on 1-8 shooting. He rebounded nicely against Adams State, scoring a career-high 20 points and adding a career-high six assists.
He credited his success with a focus on execution in practice.
“I think we learned a lot from the (Long Beach State) loss,” Emery said. “We really emphasized executing our offense. I think that helped us this week, executing in practice. And that related to the game.
Emery said that when the Cougars get going defensively the offense is close behind.
“I believe that when we find ourselves on defense, our offensive game comes right behind it,” Emery said.
The BYU basketball team and its young guns will be back in action on Nov. 25 when they host Mississippi Valley State.