‘Doing whatever is asked’ – Life as a BYU men’s basketball graduate assistant
Running a college basketball team requires a lot of moving parts. A small army of coaches, trainers, managers, scouts, recruiters, video analysts, stats extraordinaires and more go into the on-court product.
But there is one position that does not fit into a perfectly detailed box: the graduate assistant, affectionately referred to as the GA.
Evan Troy is one of two BYU men’s basketball GAs. After four years playing for BYU, where he appeared in 46 games, head coach Mark Pope invited Troy to stay with the team as a GA.
“I didn’t really know anything about the graduate system position until I got here and started playing,” Troy said. He was inspired by the team’s GAs during his time playing, including Lee Cummard, who he says first piqued his interest in being a graduate assistant.
“I decided I’d do it and then Coach Pope got the head coaching job. He takes his graduate system stuff really seriously,” Troy said. I realized how serious the business is and that kind of made me love it more.”
Many GAs take the role with hopes of being a head coach one day. Troy is the same. He said he has a “Shoot for the stars, land on the moon” mindset with his future goals.
Despite the position being an important stepping stone to coaching, GAs often do anything and everything in addition to the help they provide the coaching staff. Troy has gone shopping, done a hike to scout out a campsite, refereed scrimmages during practice and much more.
“Every day is an adventure, honestly,” Troy said. “It’s awesome because we never go to work bored. It’s scary at the same time, but we never are bored, that’s for sure.”
Fellow GA Brad Kitchen has similar stories. The former Utah Valley University guard, who joined the BYU staff in 2020 with Troy, was also coached by Pope before he moved from UVU to BYU. Kitchen’s love for the game of basketball is unwavering, even with all the random GA tasks he is assigned.
He recalls one time Troy had to call a consulate during the height of the COVID-19 restrictions to determine if an international player was going to be able to get a visa to return to the U.S. to play. Kitchen was once tasked with determining if the team could host an election voting station at the Marriott Center.
“A lot of the times I think, ‘Coach, these are things that are probably a little bit out of our realm of influence,’ but we’re asked to do them and give him information,” Kitchen said. “So like Evan said, every day you come in, you got some core responsibilities that you do. But there’s a lot of memories like, ‘Hey, I got a crappy task for you.'”
One of the pair’s most recent assignments was to find mean tweets for Pope to read on “BYU Basketball with Mark Pope,” a weekly show on BYUtv.
Pope does not always have his GAs make fun of him. In fact, he is quick to heap praise for the way the GAs helped the team snap a losing streak this season.
“You always face adversity through a season, right?” Pope said. “The combination of joy in the gym with really heightened focus is a challenge. Our GAs do an unbelievable job, our managers do a great job and of course my assistant coaches are incredible.”
The sentiment was echoed by starting forward Seneca Knight after the same losing streak in which the Cougars lost four consecutive games before rebounding with a pair of gritty wins.
“It was huge being able to see their perspective,” Knight said of the GAs. “They know things about the game that we may not know as a player. They have been through it and this is kind of our first time as this team together going through it.”
Knight said the team was able to listen to the experiences of the GAs and coaching staff, which inspired them and helped them realize that losing streaks are simply a part of basketball. He emphasized the importance of staying positive through the highs and lows.
“The GAs all had our backs, they are all encouraging,” Knight said. “They’ll come in here and get extra shots with us and just make it a positive habit and a fun atmosphere. I feel like that really contributed to these last two wins.”
As Troy’s second season of being a GA winds down, he looks forward to continuing to help the Cougars succeed. He’s a natural winner: His team won 67% of games while he was a player, improving to 71% with him as a GA. While Troy waits for his opportunity to move up the coaching ranks, he will continue to “do whatever is asked.”