homepage logo

Moving on: Expect busy offseason for BYU men’s basketball program

By Darnell Dickson - | Mar 16, 2023

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU head coach Mark Pope walks off the court with assistant coach Kahil Fennell after a victory against Portland in the second round of the West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Friday, March 3, 2023.

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU’s Fousseyni Traore (45) fight for position with a pair of South Dakota players during a men’s college basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, December 3, 2022.

AP Photo/Ronda Churchill

BYU guard Jaxson Robinson, top left, tangles with Creighton guard Trey Alexander, bottom, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in Las Vegas.

For the second straight season and third time in Mark Pope’s four-year tenure, BYU was not invited to March Madness.

Like most of the rest of us, Pope will be watching the NCAA Tournament on television — as much as he can, anyway. He’s way too busy with offseason training and recruiting to spend his days watching other basketball programs play in the postseason.

“If you saw my desk, if I turned this camera around, you’d be like, ‘Wow, this dude is in trouble,'” Pope said on Thursday during his end-of-season Zoom news conference. “It’s a fiasco of exploration right now. But it’s super exciting. If I had to choose, I’d rather be in March Madness but second to that, I’m way more excited about growing this group and growing this team.”

There’s a lot on Pope’s desk in terms of action items after a 19-15 season where the Cougars lost 13 of those games by single digits. He’s losing two double-digit scorers to graduation (Rudi Williams and Gideon George) and said he’ll be “super aggressive” in the transfer portal to find more talent as the program makes a move into the Big 12 next season.

He’s already met with the remaining players on the roster once in the process of determining off-season roles and strategy.

“There’s so much ground to cover,” Pope said. “I’ll go through the whole roster tomorrow and we’ll do it again next week. We kind of do an autopsy of the season and talk goals, structure and processes about preparing for next season. It’s actually a super fun time. I actually love it so much to dig in with these guys and kind of see where we’ve been and where we are and where we’re going. But it is time consuming.”

BYU entered the 2022-23 season with a young roster and modest goals. There were some good times (victories against Creighton and Utah, a seven-game winning streak in December), some hard times (consecutive losses to Utah Valley and South Dakota, a four-game losing streak in February) and some crushing moments (last-second losses to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s).

The WCC Tournament semifinal loss to the Gaels in Las Vegas was perfect example of the reality and potential of this team. The Cougars fell behind by as many as 23 points but rallied to within three with 30 seconds to go before losing by seven.

“As proud as I am of what these guys accomplished this year, I’m even more proud of their approach and their resilience,” Pope said. “That (resilience) was a word that come up in the first round of meetings with all 17 guys. It’s just the fact that these guys were facing big odds and it was a new and young group. They went through some hard stuff and just kept coming back with a view to getting better. I’m super proud of that.”

Pope pointed to three areas that have steadily declined over the past three years: Effectiveness shooting the ball, turnovers and the lack of experience on the roster. There is already an aggressive plan in place to address the first two but getting older? That’s all on Pope and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail, specifically through the transfer portal.

“We went from being a Top 10 most veteran group in our first year and every year we’ve declined to this year, when we were almost 300th in the country in terms of experience,” Pope said. “The great thing about being young is it (experience) is kind of tied to it, right? You’re going to get perfect at it. So the guys have made perfect progress from yesterday to today towards getting older. We’re super excited about taking care of issue No. 3. So we’ll be super aggressive in the transfer portal and see if we can augment our daily growth with a couple of veteran bodies.”

Pope said Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe and Deputy Athletic Director Brian Santiago are completely behind his process moving forward into the Big 12.

“The great thing about Tom and Brian is they’re not scared of hard work and they’re not scared of building something from the ground up,” Pope said. “They’re incredible guys in this athletic department.”

The core roster group (freshmen Dallin Hall and Richie Saunders, sophomores Jaxson Robinson, Fousseyni Traore, Trey Stewart and Atiki Ally Atiki and juniors Spencer Johnson and Noah Waterman) will get a boost from junior marksman Trevin Knell, who sat out the entire 2022-23 season after shoulder surgery. The rest of the roster will be in a state of flux as players come and go into the transfer portal. Freshman Hao Dong has already entered the portal.

“The guys are back in the gym,” Pope said. “We’re working hard. It’s very focused and very deliberate. We’re trying to be super intentional with everything we do, which is incredibly time consuming, but I think our guys feel it and I think our guys are hungry. They know that we have just barely reached base camp on this climb up Mount Everest, We’re super humbled by where we have to go and we know this not a one-day or one-month or one-year process, but we’re engaged and can’t wait to keep moving forward every day.”


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)