BYU basketball players making strides for 2018 season

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Nick Emery is one of the additions to the 2018–19 men’s basketball roster alongside incoming freshmen. The team is continuing to work on its chemistry and bettering the new players. (BYU Photo)

BYU is training two newly returned missionary freshmen — Gavin Baxter and Connor Harding — as the team prepares for what could be a very exciting 2018–2019 basketball season.

Regaining fitness as a post-mission college athlete is certainly a challenge, but guiding returned missionary athletes through the training process needed to help avoid injury and successfully compete at the college level is something BYU athletic trainers know well. Baxter returned from his two-year mission in May, and Harding returned from his in June.

BYU Director of Basketball Operations Andrew May said there is a process to bringing players back after missions. While the process is generally the same, how long it takes depends on what kind of condition the athlete is in when returning from the mission field.

First, the returned missionary will start by working with a strength and conditioning coach. The conditioning coach evaluates him and then creates a customized workout program by working one-on-one with the returned missionary. Because each athlete returns from his mission at his own level of physical preparedness, this helps get him back in playing shape as quickly as possible. 

During this training period, the returned missionary works out on his own and cannot participate with the team. As the player progresses and regains his physical strength and stamina, he will begin working out with a BYU basketball team assistant. Again, avoiding contact with other team members who are competing at the college athletic level is important in avoiding injury. 

The best way to help avoid injuries is by training one-on-one with a strength and conditioning coach or a basketball team assistant as the returned missionary regains physical playing condition. If a returned missionary immediately returns to the field of play before getting in competitive shape, the probability of injury increases.

Once the returning player is able to compete at the same level as teammates who have not spent an extended period of time away from the sport, the returning player is allowed to begin scrimmaging with the team.

“We usually slowly progress them back to avoid injuries. Two years is quite a while, and it takes more than just one month to get it all back,” May said. “Drills and scrimmaging are the most intense. That’s where they’re most likely to get injured.”

Baxter and Harding are already showing improvement and good work ethic. 

“Both new players are tireless workers. They are both practicing before and after normal hours, working on their game and trying to get better,” May said.

Nick Emery is also returning to the team after withdrawing from school and leaving the BYU basketball program last year to focus on personal issues and avoid distracting the team while under an NCAA investigation regarding improper benefits. 

Emery has not played since the 2016–17 season and is required to sit out the first nine games of the 2018–19 season due to discrepancies with a men’s basketball team booster. Emery also suffered a minor injury as he started training for the upcoming season.

“Nick is still recovering from a minor injury, so he has not fully participated in workouts yet,” May said. “We’re hoping he can continue to progress and get to a place where he can be playing and participating at full strength without any issues of any kind.”

Returning players have also been working hard over the summer. “Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Kolby Lee, Luke Worthington, Zac Seljaas, Rylan Bergersen — they’ve all made great progress,” May said.

In a reunion of sorts, Childs will again be linking up on the basketball court with Connor Harding and Gavin Baxter. Before coming to BYU, they all played together on the 2016 Utah Prospects Amateur Athletic Union basketball team.

BYU has taken a hiatus from the NCAA tournament, and they are looking to put things together and get back to the tournament.

“I always look forward to BYU basketball season. The team is looking good this year, and I’m excited to see where it goes,” said Jake Smart, a computer science student and longtime BYU basketball fan.

One of last season’s stars Elijah Bryant left BYU early to enter the 2018 NBA draft, creating a void in BYU’s basketball program. Bryant, who went undrafted, recently participated in the NBA Summer League as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers team. Despite Bryant’s departure, there is plenty of talent on the roster with seven four-star high school recruits.

“This season is going to be electric. The new talent is going to fill in all of the team’s holes,” said Cameron Harris, an accounting student and basketball fan.

BYU will begin the 2018–2019 season on October 19 in the Marriott Center.