Spencer Johnson working with what’s new in BYU men’s basketball program
There is so much that is new in the BYU men’s basketball program.
A new assistant coach, Kahil Fennell, has joined the program and all eyes are on a move to the Big 12 a year from now. Of the 17 players listed on the 2021-22 roster, only six scholarship athletes remain. There is an influx of returned missionaries and transfer portal pickups that are seeking that special mixture of talent and cohesiveness.
Senior guard Spencer Johnson is a steadying influence among all the changes and efforted to get to know one of the transfers in 6-foot-6 swingman Jaxson Robinson, who is working out with the team in Provo.
“He’s smooth,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be really good for us. He’s good off the bounce and he’s a good shooter. I sat and talked to him the other day for a long time. He’s a good dude and a good teammate. I’m excited to be on the court with him.”
Johnson said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to get to know other transfer prospects who have made a recruiting trip to campus during the off-season.
“It’s big anytime a guy is trying to figure out a new spot to go because they want to have a successful career,” Johnson said. “They want to hear from players about their experiences and what the perks are. It’s fun to connect with these guys.”
The six remaining players have to balance their excitement of having new teammates with knowing their playing time or role could be altered or diminished.
“One thing we talk about as a team is that we have to put aside own agenda,” Johnson said. “It’s not always super easy. Everybody wants to play all the minutes and take all the shots. It’s all about trusting in the bigger picture and vision the coaches have. They’re bringing in these guys and it will help us. We have to sacrifice our own agenda for the good of the team.”
Johnson was once new to the program, transferring from Salt Lake Community College in 2020.
“No. 1, there’s no substitute for hard work,” he said. “You just come here and dive in. You have to develop relationships with your teammates, getting to know them and talking to them, learning their story. It’s the same with the coaches. You have to be up there every day in their offices, trying to develop a relationship with them.”
Johnson said he’s spent considerable time with Fennell, who joined the program about a month ago.
“He works super hard,” Johnson said. “He’s really super personable and a great guy to go in and talk to. We’ve developed a really good relationship. He knows what he’s talking about because he’s coached in the ACC and has good experience. He been putting some new things in our offense. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him.”
The roster is likely complete after BYU added Detroit Mercy transfer Noah Waterman this week. Waterman is still completing classwork and a few weeks away from joining the team. New point guard Rudi Williams (Coastal Carolina) will also come to town sometime this summer. Dallin Hall, Richie Saunders and Tanner Toolson are all on the returned missionary training plan and are being brought along slowly.
The Cougars are allowed eight hours a week of training during the summer, spending one hour on the court and one hour in the weight room four days a week.
“It’s been good and we’ve been busy,” Johnson said. “The coaches have been out recruiting a ton and we’ve been running the BYU basketball camps. Summer workouts are going well. I’m impressed with the new guys coming in, diving in head first. They’re working hard getting shots up and doing good things in the weight room.”
Johnson, Gideon George, Fousseyni Traore, Trevin Knell, Atiki Ally Atiki and Trey Stewart are the six players returning from last season, which finished 24-11 and in the quarterfinals of the National Invitational Tournament.
“One thing that I was super impressive is that we all had some time off, but most of the guys didn’t really take time off,” Johnson said. “We were really all in the gym. Trey has really been impressive and looking good. Fous is doing well and his conditioning level is unreal now. He’s getting up and down the court really well. It’s been good to see the guys are staying hungry and want to take another step this year.”
Johnson averaged 5.8 points last season but is valuable in other ways, such as perimeter defense, ball handling and leadership.
“My role is different every year,” he said. “I want to take a step and be a more vocal team leader. I’ve been here a couple of years and I know how to run things. The coaches have pushed me to be a lot more on attack mode off the dribble and in transition.”
That directive apparently applies to the Cougars overall game as well.
“We’re going to be different from maybe some of the teams the past couple of years,” Johnson said. “The coaches are really pushing for us to play in transition more. They want us to rip it downhill and attack the basket. Last year we were a lot more ball screen-oriented. They’re pushing us to be on attack and make plays for our teammates.
“I’m super excited for the season. I like all the dudes that have showed up. They’re really good guys and I know they can play. It’ll be fun to get on the court with them and see what strengths they have to help us be successful.”