BYU basketball media day 25

Brigham Young forward Kolby Lee poses for a portrait during BYU basketball's media day in the Marriott Center Annex on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Provo

The development of sophomore big man Kolby Lee is a big priority for BYU men’s basketball.

Leading scorer Yoeli Childs is going to miss the first nine games of the season due to an NCAA suspension, and other than starting forward Gavin Baxter, the 6-foot-10 Lee is the only other big man on the Cougar roster expected to play in 2019-20.

Head coach Mark Pope sang Lee’s praises after a strong performance in the team’s 10-day trip to Italy. In two games – both against LCC International – Lee averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field.

“Kolby Lee played incredibly hard and averaged (almost) a double double,” Pope said. “For him, his health in No. 1. I told him he was not allowed to not be healthy anymore. He had surgery this summer. The biggest question was will her pursue rebounds and run the floor? I told him it was pretty how he runs the floor but it was really beautiful in how we play the game.”

Lee has struggled to stay healthy and played just 54 total minutes last season.

“He’s a great high post passer,” Pope said. “The way we coach him in the post, it’s really simple. I’m worried about his feet on defense. He’s going to have to continue to work hard there.”

Pope said he split his squad into two groups and rotated them through the four games. Childs, however, begged Pope to be able to play in three of the four games. Childs averaged 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds during the trip.

“Yoeli played really hard and had a great camp,” Pope said. “He was probably our best play maker, making plays for his teammates on this trip, and it wasn’t even close.”

Pope said he’s trying to turn the nine-game suspension into a positive with his team.

“We’re going to be missing a huge piece,” Pope said. “I would never in a million years choose to miss that piece, especially with the teams we get to play. In the past two years, of the 24 leagues other than the Power 5 leagues plus the Mountain West, the Atlantic 10 and the AAC, outside of those eight leagues, the other 24 leagues have had two at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament and one of those was Gonzaga, who was a No. 1 seed. I think the selection committee has lost their minds. That’s what we face. So if that’s the way this drink is stirred, the most important thing is for us to be the best team we can possibly be in March. So maybe having Yoeli out will play dividends for us down the stretch.”

Pope also praised the play of senior forward Dalton Nixon, recent Arizona transfer Alex Barcello and senior Zac Seljaas, who underwent surgery for a broken foot last week.

“We’re hoping he’ll be back for the opener (in early November),” Pope said. “It’s a Jones fracture so it was a simple operation where they just put a screw in there. This week he’ll get out of the cast and into a boot. Right now he has a bright pink cast and as a coping mechanism, he’s growing the most nasty, BYU-approved mustache I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Pope said the final contract has been signed and the Cougars’ preseason schedule will be released sometime this week. BYU begins fall practice on Sept. 24.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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