BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope has wasted no time in making the men’s basketball program his own.
From preseason two-a-day practices that began with the start of the BYU fall semester to increased public involvement, changes implemented by Pope seem to be bringing a new perspective to the basketball team.
Pope had been coaching at Utah Valley University for four years when he signed with BYU in April 2019. Pope’s switch led three UVU players to also change their allegiance: grad student Jake Toolson, junior Richard Harward and sophomore Wyatt Lowell.
Pope’s dedication to team success can be seen in his strict practice schedule, which entails non-contact shooting practice in the morning and standard practice in the afternoon.
Senior Yoeli Childs, who has been with the Cougars for the past three years, said he feels the intensity has increased dramatically.
“Every drill is a battle and no matter what we’re doing — if it’s a shooting competition, if it’s five on five, if you have to get two stops in a row, whatever the drill is — everyone’s competing like their life depends on it,” Childs said. “It’s the hardest I’ve ever practiced consistently, every single day.”
The hard work and dedication the basketball players have put into their practice schedule drove Pope to initiate Midnight Madness, a college basketball ritual that he participated in as a player at Washington and Kentucky, but one that BYU has never attempted before.
“It was just nice because they’ve been locked away in the gym twice a day for a long time, and then to actually remember that this is really fun and people really care,” Pope said. “It was special.”
Midnight Madness took place on Oct. 23 and kickstarted the basketball season with over 2,000 students in attendance. The event included the BYU men’s and women’s basketball teams, the Cougarettes, the BYU Dunk Team and additional groups that will play important roles in the upcoming sporting events at the Marriott Center.
Pope even ensured that the students would have personalized interaction with the athletes by inviting the crowd to storm the court, a move that brought energy and excitement to the pack of students.
Three days after engaging the student body, the basketball team went outside of BYU’s boundaries to send a special delivery to BYU basketball courtside season ticket holders. The delivery included a box of the 2019-20 tickets, hand-delivered by one of BYU’s basketball’s own.
The surprise continued as each box contained a personal video from Pope, thanking the ticket holders for their continued support and exclaiming his excitement for the approaching games.
While this act may seem unnecessary to some, Pope said he feels that the fan base is as important to the team as his players and is essential to the ultimate success of the team.
“Listen, we know that the only way we’re going to be as successful as we want to be is if we all do this together,” Pope said. “Reaching out to our courtside season ticket holders with something a little bit special is important because those guys are in this with us.”
While the methods may differ from what the basketball team is used to, they seem to be having a positive effect.
Gonzaga transfer Jesse Wade practiced one year under former BYU basketball coach Dave Rose before Pope took the reigns. He said the coaches are polar opposites, but he doesn’t find either of the coaching tactics one above the other. Rather, he expressed enjoying learning from both strengths.
“They both have so many amazing qualities about them, but it’s just a completely different feeling,” Wade said. “You get two different people and you love their styles and love who they are for what they do.”
The Cougars currently sits at a 6-3 record as of Dec. 2. BYU fans can continue to see the new coaching structure in action with their next game against the University of Utah on Dec. 4. The game will be held on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Fans can watch the game on CBS Sports Network or listen in on BYU Radio, BYU Sports Network or KSL 102.7.