When BYU Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Chad Gwilliam walked into men’s basketball practice last week, the players all had that “here we go again” feeling.
The Nick Emery saga that resulted in NCAA sanctions, Yoeli Childs’ recent nine-game suspension for a paperwork error – Gwilliam is often the bearer of bad news.
Not this time.
“He just asked me, ‘How would you feel about playing this year?’” said guard Alex Barcello, who transferred from Arizona this spring. “And I was like, ‘Shoot, I’d give anything to play this year.’ And he was like, ‘Well, get ready, because you’re going to suit up Friday.’ Everyone kind of crowded around me and got all excited. It was very special to me. It did surprise me, definitely.”
The NCAA seems more likely to hand out waivers for transfers this season: College basketball analyst Jeff Goodman’s unofficial count this week was 54 approved, eight denied and 58 still waiting. BYU’s Richard Harward, who transferred from Utah Valley when Mark Pope took over in Provo, is one of those still waiting.
As for Barcello, Pope joked that getting the 6-foot-2 guard eligible “made our average height smaller” but said it changes the Cougars lineup in a very big way.
“He gives us a real physical presence in the backcourt, which is a huge gift,” Pope said. “He’s an extraordinary young man and a terrific basketball player. He brings a physicality to the game that we desperately need.”
Teammate Kolby Lee said the Cougars are just as glad to have him available.
“We were pumped as soon as we heard,” Lee said. “I would describe him as one of the fastest and quickest guards I’ve ever played with. He plays downhill and can stop on a dime. His pull-up game is really nice. He’s a good shooter and a good passer. I love playing with him. He comes off ball screens, gets downhill quick and can find you when you’re open.”
Barcello said he didn’t know what to expect with the NCAA but that the long wait was a blessing in disguise.
“It never stopped me from working every day or affected my work ethic,” He said. “Every day my teammates would ask, and I would just say, ‘I don’t know yet, but it won’t keep me from working with you guys like I’m going to play this year.’”
Pope didn’t divulge any statistical information from Saturday’s scrimmage against Cal, but appeared to be extremely happy with the outcome.
“Our guys performed really well,” Pope said. “My takeaway is that the team, we have a chance to surprise people and a chance to get things done. At the end of the day, we have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
Pope said that Lee — the Cougars only big man until Childs becomes eligible to play in Game 10 – was “Terrific. He’s been playing really well for us.” Pope also singled out Barcello, senior guard TJ Haws, senior guard Jake Toolson, former walkon Taylor Maughn, who shot the ball well and senior forward Dalton Nixon.
“I was pleased with it (the scrimmage),” Pope said. “We came in Monday like we were really good so we had to regain ourselves a little bit. But this is a veteran team and they are pretty savvy. I think we clearly understand the challenges we have in front of us.”
Former BYU head coach Dave Rose, who is recovering from a heart attack suffered last week, was at practice on Tuesday with his wife, Cheryl.
“The guys were really eager to see him and reach out to him,” Pope said. “They sent him a bunch of videos that were more or less entertaining. It was such a lift for the guys. I know it’s got to be healing for him to walk into this building. There’s probably not anyone else in the world who is legitimately an expert on the energy in this building, what he’s lived through in this building. I’m really happy it worked out he could come here. He looks great.”
BYU opens the season on Friday with an exhibition game against the University of Texas at Tyler. The Patriots, who were 8-17 last season, are in the first of a three-year transition from Division III to Division II. Former Grand Canyon assistant Louis Wilson is in his first year as head coach. Sophomore Darius Alford, who averaged 18.6 points per game as a freshman, leads a guard-heavy lineup.
Pope said he is always looking for effort and energy from his players in an exhibition game but also laid out four specific areas he will be watching.
“We really have to figure out how to rebound the ball,” Pope said. “Then we talk all the time about being there defensively on their catch and move. Those are defensive markers that are important to us.
"On offense we’re really interested in pace and protecting the ball, which usually go hand in hand. We were actually great in pace and protecting the ball after the first five minutes of the scrimmage. In terms of rebounding, we did what we had to do but we have to get way better.”
Pope said he will likely play Childs in the exhibition. It will be his only game action until the Dec. 4 meeting against Utah in Salt Lake City.