Here’s to the power of positive thinking: At the end of BYU basketball’s Midnight Madness event early Thursday morning, coach Mark Pope did a full play-by-play of his team winning the West Coast Conference Tournament and invited a couple thousand Cougar fans to rush the Marriott Center court.
He didn’t have to ask twice, because if there’s one thing college students up well past curfew can do, is go a little bit crazy.
“I do believe in this, I think you practice winning, I just do,” Pope said. “For all of us to kind of practice that together is important. I want my guys to feel that and I want these fans to feel that. It was a nice way to wrap up the night. I always like to push the envelope and see if I can get myself in trouble. Tom (Holmoe) will probably send me a text or email tonight.”
Pope knows a thing or two about championships, having won a national title at Kentucky as a player in 1996. That’s why he went off script at the Midnight Madness event. He said he remembers every single second of winning that national title at the Meadowlands in New Jersey 23 years ago.
He wants to bring that feeling to BYU.
“This is just an extraordinary place,” Pope said. “There are very few places like this where you can do this at this time of day on a Wednesday night and to have people come and be so engaged. It was great for the guys. They’ve kind of stuck in the dungeon right now, working like crazy. So to come up for a breath of air, and remember that people really care.”
Jake Toolson, who played at BYU his freshman and sophomore seasons, transferred to Utah Valley then came back with Pope for his senior year, said the players were excited about getting in front of the fans.
“Coach Pope, he shut it down with the storming the court,” Toolson said. “I wasn’t expecting that. It’s just cool that people care so much about this place and we have so much support. I feel like it’s our job to take care of business and all these people are along for the ride with us.”
It will probably be a bumpy ride at first, what with Yoeli Childs’ nine-game NCAA suspension, the season-ending shoulder injury to Gavin Baxter and a preseason schedule with plenty of challenges.
As for the more serious business, Pope said senior Zach Seljaas, who broke his foot this summer on the team’s trip to Italy, went through a 15-minute shooting session on Tuesday and could be participating in live drills next week. Senior point guard T.J. Haws is going full speed at practice after having a knee scope three weeks ago.
The Cougars will participate in a closed scrimmage in the Marriott Center on Saturday against Cal, which is coached by one of Pope’s mentors, Mark Fox.
“I’m so excited for Coach Fox to bring his team up here,” Pope said. “He’s the guy who brought me into this business. We’ve know each other forever. He was a GA (graduate assistant) and I was a player at Washington. We stayed after practice every single day playing one-on-one and getting up shots. I love him dearly. The fact he’s going to be up here to get to see if we can get our teams ready in the same gym for a day is super exciting for me.”
The Midnight Madness event — organized by BYU Marketing — provided games and activities for fans in the concourse and prizes were awarded for contests on the court. Musical group Vocal Point performed the Michael Jackson hit “Thriller.” Local hip-hop artist O.B.A sang an original song called, “Final Seconds.” O.B.A. also sang the national anthem at the Utah Jazz home opener in Salt Lake City on Wednesday and had his picture taken with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
The Midnight Madness event also honored the BYU women’s basketball team, which won 26 games in 2018-19 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars begin the 2019-20 season with an exhibition game at home against Westminster next Tuesday.
The men’s team has an exhibition game on Nov. 1 in the Marriott Center against UT-Tyler.