If history is any indication, and BYU coach Dave Rose's projection is correct, the Cougars are in for some solid 20-point nights from newcomer Eric Mika.
Even right away, the 6-foot-9 incoming freshman is expected to see a load of minutes. Rose made a comparison of Mika to one-time Cougar standout Mekeli Wesley, who from 1997-2001 had 30 games of scoring at least 20 points — tied for 10th best in school history. And that includes five in his initial college season.
"We're going to throw Eric the ball, and we're going to expect him to make positive plays," Rose said during an interview session with media Tuesday, a day after the team officially started practice.
The Cougars are clearly a guard-oriented team, which won't insult Mika. Tyler Haws (27.8 points average) is one of the top scorers in the nation. Matt Carlino is in his third year as a point guard. Returned missionary Kyle Collinsworth is so versatile with his height, and another that can make good things happen with the ball in his hands.
The ninth-year head coach Rose insists there are plenty of opportunities for all three to do so. The three guards are expected to be on the court often together, the key being all of them capable to rebound and start fast breaks.
Other than that, it's one of Rose's least experienced teams (six true newcomers among 13 players) facing what may be BYU's most ambitious schedule in the Rose era.
"I want our guys to have an opportunity to play a schedule that allows them to get to the NCAA Tournament," Rose said of a slate that includes tough road or neutral-court games with Texas, Stanford, Oregon and potentially 2013 Final Four participant Wichita State (likely if BYU defeats Texas in November in Kansas City, Mo.).
And Rose is also leaning on playing more man-to-man defense, which he's hinted at since last season ended with a 24-12 record and an NIT run.
That affects the whole team, which last year became more accustomed to playing a zone method that West Coast Conference opponents in particular attacked with fervor. BYU was relegated to third place for the second consecutive season.
BYU went to the zone often because Mika's predecessor, Brandon Davies, needed some defensive assistance in staying out of foul trouble.
Still, Davies was the Cougars' second-best scorer (about 18 points a game) and is in the NBA these days.
That's a lot for Mika to live up to, let alone the Wesley comparison.
Mika is also used to playing a lot of zone defense, as that's what Lone Peak High did.
Mika averaged 16.4 points on what was arguably the best high school team in the country last year, and he steps into a similar situation: The Knights were also a guard-oriented team.
The only question is how fast he can navigate the college game, especially when he's quite aware that his size — while valuable — isn't exactly a precious commodity at this next level. Even the Cougars have three players within an inch of his height. He won't just walk in and dominate.
"I like to run, which is what the whole team does," Mika said of his way to fit in immediately. "I fit the system, I think."
He considers himself a "classic big guy," meaning staying near the rim. Even Davies liked to approach the perimeter and fire a jumper every now and then. Mika jokes that part of the court "still scares me right now."
He may be the best center for this BYU team already.
Nate Austin (despite being 6-11) is still an outside-first option who will cause mismatches in other ways than near the rim. Luke Worthington (6-9) is an outside threat, too. Graham Pingree is a newly added walk-on from Colorado.
"Eric just needs to find a way to play his game at the college level," Collinsworth said. "The ones who are good find their game, and play the way they play. Freshman year is tough, a lot of ups and downs, though."
Comparing to Wesley would mean Mika averaging 13.5 points and about five rebounds as a freshman.
Rose said Mika comes to campus with "big expectations."
Mika not leaving on an LDS mission right after high school was fortuitous for the program. He said even with the LDS Church's recent age-requirement changes, he still wanted to play a freshman year before serving. Also, his brother recently finished up a mission and the two are living together.
Though it should be a fun team for Mika to hang around. It's one of Rose's youngest, but also has "a lot of personality. It's an energetic, passionate group."
Rose added: "It's the first time in a long time that I have more new players (than returning players). That is going to take a lot of patience on our part."
∫Tip-ins: BYU had its first practice Monday and Rose named juniors Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws, along with returned missionary sophomore Kyle Collinsworth as team captains. ...Freshman Luke Worthington sprained his ankle Monday in the opening practice — his birthday, of all days — and the Wisconsin forward is out of practice for a few days. ...This year's game with Utah State is in Salt Lake City at EnergySolutions Arena. Rose said he anticipates future 3-year deals that include a game in Provo and Logan along with the NBA venue. ...Rose credited Carlino's conditioning level as his greatest development from last winter. ...Collinsworth may just wear shorts all winter in Provo. He spent a couple long, cold winters and Russia and even experienced minus-42 degrees Fahrenheit. ...One name on the roster that can't play this season: 6-3 guard Chase Fischer, who transferred from Wake Forest after two seasons.