Are we sure Mark Pope doesn’t already have his point guard?
Editor’s note: The recent disruption of sports has caused us to rethink a few things. Here are some second thoughts in a series called “Are we sure?”
Ever since Mark Pope and BYU men’s basketball landed top graduate transfer Matt Haarms in April, fans’ hopes have remained high for a top point guard from the transfer portal to pair with him, first with Mac McClung from Georgetown and now Andrew Nembhard from Florida. But with McClung and others committing elsewhere, are we sure senior Alex Barcello isn’t the guy for the job?
The Cougars are coming off their most successful and exciting season in nearly a decade, rising to a Top 15 ranking in March. A big reason for the success was the team’s large contingent of seniors, including four-year starters Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws. Expectations for the program are sky-high, so who better to replace those two veterans than two more experienced players? Haarms was part of a Power 5 program for four years at Purdue, and Barcello is the only senior on the team with substantial experience playing under Pope.
Barcello is a transfer himself, coming to BYU from Arizona just one year ago. Players who transfer are typically required to sit out a year, but Barcello was granted a waiver just before the season started, and Pope wasted no time plugging him into the main rotation. Barcello started all 32 games he played in, and provided a critical spark on both ends of the floor next to Haws.
Haws assumed most of the ball-handling and playmaking duties of a traditional point guard, while Barcello learned off-the-ball skills that are crucial in a fast-moving, 3-point shooting scheme like the one Pope employs. Despite not bringing the ball up most of the time, Barcello had five assists on two occasions, and was often tasked with defending the opposing team’s primary ball-handler.
Pope has described Barcello as a “bulldog” on the defensive end and a “creative passer” on offense, giving him the complete package as a starting point guard for the Cougars. His 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame puts him on the slightly smaller side among modern point guards, but as shown with Haws, BYU is accustomed to non-traditional builds at the guard position.
With the departure of Childs and Haws, however, the biggest contribution Barcello can make on the court next season is scoring. He scored in double digits in three of the Cougars’ final three games, and made six threes on just eight attempts earlier in the season. His efficient shooting and tenacity when driving to the hoop were already a big part of the team’s success, and these traits will be magnified with the ball in his hands the majority of the time.
One big question that remains, though, is who will take Barcello’s spot as the off-ball shooting guard in the starting lineup if he moved to point guard? With an abundance of size at the forward positions (six players on the roster are 6-foot-6 or taller), the Cougars can afford to go a little bit smaller with their two guards. Sticking with the transfer theme, 6-foot-1 former Gonzaga guard Jesse Wade seems to finally be rounding into the shape. The Deseret News recently shared how Wade has been running up to the Y to rehabilitate his knee following a severe injury last year, and how he is “finally in a place where (he is) healthy and feel(s) good.” The former Utah Mr. Basketball may finally be ready for his big re-introduction to the Beehive State.
Still, the point guard and leader of this team should be Barcello. The benefit of having him as “the guy,” for lack of a better term, is the experience and reputation he has already gained with this team. He is a leader in the locker room, as shown by his role in pumping up the team before, after and during games this past season, and he will be able to use that voice to continue to lead the team in a bigger on-court role.
Barcello recently spoke on BYU Sports Nation about a “new role” with the team, so it’s not too much of a stretch to assume he will be expected to do more as a senior, especially with how much Pope leaned on his veteran leadership this past season.
“I know that we lost a lot of scoring and I am going to have to step up in that role, but I know I don’t have to do it all by myself,” Barcello told BYUSN. “In the point guard position, you have to be the floor general. Me seeing all these bigs that I have, I’m going to need to get the ball to them and keep them happy.”
He seems to have already embraced his role as ball-handler and playmaker, and he is aware of the need to fill in where Haws left off as the do-it-all guard for the Cougars.