‘The man is a monster’ — Fouss Traore is just getting started for BYU men’s hoops
BYU has had plenty of dominant big men grace the Marriott Center hardwood over the years.
Krešimir Ćosić is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Shawn Bradley was the NBA’s second overall pick, Brandon Davies has racked up plenty of accolades throughout his European career and Yoeli Childs is currently lighting up the NBA’s G-league. Just last year, the towering Matt Haarms took home conference defensive player of the year honors during his lone Cougar campaign.
This season, BYU unleashed a new beast in the post. Perhaps you’ve heard the choruses of his name bellowing from the ROC section each night.
The Wasatch Academy product may have flown under the radar into Provo, but within his first collegiate minutes against Cleveland State it was clear that the Mali native was the future of BYU’s program. No one, however, could have projected just how valuable Fouss Traore would become for the Cougars — quite possibly saving their season.
He’s shown tremendous finesse in the paint with an efficient, delicate touch at the rim. He’s a monster on the glass who seemingly gobbles up every possible rebound, and although somewhat undersized for a low-post player at 6-foot-6, Traore’s impressive wingspan and thick frame have allowed him to serve as a physically bruising enforcer and solid rim protector for the Cougars.
Traore’s most valuable asset?
He’s only a freshman.
To quote Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports: “Buy stock now.”
It’s impossible to believe that the same Traore who posted 25 points and 19 rebounds against Pepperdine a week ago sleeps on a Helaman Halls extra-long twin bed as a first-year student, rooming with fellow freshman Atiki Ally Atiki.
“To get 25 points and 19 rebounds as a freshman is absurd,” point guard Te’Jon Lucas said of Traore. “9-for-10 on shooting…the man is a monster.”
Observing Traore’s game, he appears much more experienced — both within BYU’s scheme and against college competition — than the reality of his youth, especially considering the demanding nature of his position.
“Pretty early on he showed that he had some patience in the post,” head coach Mark Pope said. “Most young bigs get sped up, and that’s the thing that almost every young big has to fight is to slow down. Fouss hasn’t needed that like most freshman bigs. He’s got great touch, he’s super diligent, he tries every day how to do it better and he’s really smart.”
Pope had no intention of playing Traore as frequently as he has, but season-ending injuries for Richard Harward and Gavin Baxter left BYU completely lacking in the size department. Losses to Utah Valley, Creighton and Vanderbilt exposed the Cougars for their weaknesses against larger opposing lineups and put BYU’s season at a crossroads. Something wasn’t working, and a change needed to be made.
Forced to tweak his lineup, Pope shook things up and pulled Traore off the bench — where he’d already been playing over 19 minutes a game — and officially into the starting five.
How did Traore respond? In his first career start against Liberty over BYU’s Christmas trip to Hawaii, Traore posted his first-ever double-double with 19 points and 13 boards and was named to the Diamond Head Classic all-tournament team.
“Fouss and Atiki have been thrown into service before they’re supposed to be,” Pope said. “I don’t want to put them in situations that will mess with their confidence or put a lot of pressure on them, but Fouss is just like, ‘Why are you worried about that coach?’ He’s very special, and we’re really blessed to have him.”
In 16 starts, Traore is averaging 10.5 points per game with 9.3 rebounds while shooting a ridiculous 62% from the field. In comparison, BYU’s most comparable recent big man, Childs, shot 53.7% for his career.
Remember, Traore is only a freshman. He still has three years to develop further, which seems a bit too good to be true.
In addition to seven double-doubles, Traore has logged three WCC Freshman of the Week awards and was named to the conference’s All-Freshman team this week. He is the WCC”s third-leading rebounder within conference play and is BYU’s second-leading free throw shooter.
Wait…a big man who ranks among a team’s best free-throw shooters? And still as a freshman? That’s almost unheard of. It’s already pretty obvious by now, but Traore is legit.
Losing Harward and Baxter was a crushing blow for the Cougars, and mixed with BYU’s lack of a true second scorer, a poorly-timed, mind-numbing four-game losing skid and the curious case of Caleb Lohner resulted in the most adversity Pope has faced over his three seasons in Provo. Along with stalwart sharpshooter Alex Barcello, Traore has shouldered a staggering load as one of Pope’s only consistent, reliable rotation pieces.
“I really appreciate how much the coaches trust me,” Traore said. “I just need to keep getting better so I can keep their trust. I’m really grateful to be here at BYU and to be a part of this program.”
Without Traore, BYU wouldn’t have four Quad One wins. Without Traore, BYU wouldn’t be anywhere near the NCAA Tournament bubble. Without Traore, Barcello and Lucas would likely be playing their final collegiate games in the WCC Tournament with no additional postseason action.
Thankfully, when BYU has needed Traore, he’s delivered. If he’s had any freshman growing pains, they’ve been hard to notice.
The Cougars are firmly on the tournament bubble, heading to Las Vegas Friday for a final shot at augmenting their resume for the big dance. They’ve needed Traore all season, and they’ll need him once again in Vegas.
The legendary BYU big men who came before Traore never enjoyed much postseason success — Ćosić, Bradley, Davies, Childs and Haarms combined for a mere four NCAA Tournament victories over their careers. Whether or not it comes in 2022, tournament glory is where Traore could surpass all the past Cougar greats.
Remember, he’s only a freshman. Buy stock now.