Former UVU players Jake Toolson, Richard Harward and Wyatt Lowell have traded in their green Wolverine jerseys for BYU blue.
While each player is at a different stage in their college basketball career, each of the three is convinced they made the correct decision for themselves and for the success of their newfound team. When asked about the sudden change, there was a similar factor that urged the basketball players to make the switch — newly hired BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope.
“Really, it comes down to Coach Pope. I just really admire him as a coach and as a person,” Lowell, the 6-foot-10 sophomore forward from Gilbert Arizona, said. “I realized that there were still a lot of those things that he could teach me, and I could contribute to him and the program.”
Lowell is not alone in his reasoning.
Toolson — who played for BYU in 2014-16 before transferring to UVU for his junior season — acknowledged the fact that it was the coach, along with assistant coaches Chris Burgess and Cody Fueger that convinced him to return to BYU.
“It feels great, honestly. I never thought in a million years that (transferring back to BYU) would happen, but it’s crazy that things have happened the way they did…. That’s the reason I’m back. It’s to finish what I started with those guys. I’m really excited about the opportunities here,” Toolson said.
In 2016, when Toolson, then the WAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, decided to transfer to UVU, he said it was because he was having trouble balancing school, basketball, health issues and other personal matters.
“I just needed a fresh start,” Toolson said. “I just needed to take a step back in my life so that I could be the person, be the player, be the man, be everything that I wanted to be because I think I lost sight of that while I was (at BYU).”
Now seeking a masters in public administration at BYU, Toolson, said he is excited to play for the school that he started out with.
As a graduate student, Toolson holds an exception to the NCAA college athlete transfer regulation, which states that incoming transfer students must sit out for an academic year before they can begin playing in games. As undergrad students, Harward and Lowell will be unable to play in the 2019-20 season.
Toolson, who averaged 15.7 points-per-game last season, will be needed this season as 6-foot-8 senior Yoeli Childs is suspended from the first nine games. Childs is expected back on December 4, 2019, when BYU takes on their rival, Utah. This game will be held at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.
Though unable to play in games this season, 6-foot-11 junior center Harward said he is going to be spending this time strengthening his body and helping the team where needed. While this could include cheering on the sidelines, he has also assumed the position of a defensive obstacle for some of BYU’s players during practice.
“If Yoeli needs a big guy to (box out) at the post, then I’ll be the one to be the big body against him,” Harward said.
Childs, BYU basketball’s top scorer who averaged 21.2 points-per-game last season, will be gone, but the new BYU teammates agreed that they will be able to hold their own while Childs sits out.
“Yoeli is an incredible player,” Toolson said. “But I think for this team, it’s going to be an opportunity for guys to step up and for us to see what we’re made of. When Yoeli is back after nine games, he’s going to be ready, and we’re going to throw him back in there. And because other guys had that opportunity (to play), they are going to be ready too.”
Until then, all three players said they are excited for this season and their new team. When asked about what they are most looking forward to, their responses were unanimous: the BYU fanbase.
“This last season, when I was with UVU, we played against BYU and we came to the Marriott Center. There is just a type of energy playing in this gym that is unlike anything else, like it’s almost impossible to not want to try and play your hardest,” Lowell said. “I’m excited for the fans, the fan base, the culture, (and the fact) that people just love and care about sports.”