Mark Pope had coached many times in the Marriott Center throughout his career as an assistant under Dave Rose at BYU from 2011 to 2015 and later as the head man for Utah Valley.
The Cougars open the 2019-20 season at home against Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, but Pope already experienced his Zen moment on the sidelines last Friday in the exhibition win against UT Tyler.
“In all honesty, it felt a little weird before the game,” Pope said. “I had a moment before the game. I don’t know exactly how to explain it.”
Pope said he recalled the first time he brought his UVU team to the Marriott Center and was down 22-4 in the first 12 minutes. He also remembered the stunning 114-101 win for the Wolverines in 2016.
“I’ve been on the other side of this before,” he said. “It was pretty surreal to be in this gym. At the end of the day, I feel like the most fortunate and blessed human being in coaching that I get to be here, coach at BYU and work with these young men. It’s incredibly humbling and awesome.”
Pope said his team settled down in the second half of the exhibition game, especially on the offensive end. Senior guard TJ Haws didn’t play because of illness, projected starter Zach Seljaas is still recovering from a broken foot and first team All-WCC forward Yoeli Childs came off the bench because he will miss the first nine games due to an NCAA suspension.
A little bit of ragged play is par for the course in an exhibition game.
“You expect that when you go into those games,” Pope said. “It’s the first time playing in front of people, our first live scrimmage of the season. We’ve had like 15 different lineups just going through the first six weeks of practice. This was another really weird new lineup but the guys responded and really tried to guard. They were focused and gave a really good effort on the glass which is so crucial for us. So we’re really happy.”
On Monday, Pope said sophomore guard Jesse Wade will undergo a procedure on his knee to determine what has been causing him pain since January.
“He could be out a couple of weeks or six months,” Pope said.
Haws should return to the starting lineup for the opener and Seljaas is getting closer.
“Last week he went every fifth possession in practice,” Pope said. “He spent the last six weeks where the only thing he could do was be in the weight room, so he’s just yoked right now. He’s got this incredibly sexy mustache and he’s got guns right now. He was killing guys on the glass in practice. We’ll see how comfortable he is getting more reps. All of us in this room are praying to see if you can play Tuesday.”
Pope said he will probably start Haws, Jake Toolson, Alex Barcello, Dalton Nixon and Kolby Lee against Cal State Fullerton.
“I think I’m curious to see some things,” he said. “We’ve kind of been through this deal with our lineup so unsettling. We haven’t had the same lineup two days in row. It will be really interesting to see where we are and how together our guys are. With the lineup changing, we’ve also kind of been more free with trying different looks on both offense and defense. These guys have been exposed to more in the past three months than I’ve ever expose a team before. It will be interesting to see how cohesive and together we are with all of these changes.”
Cal State Fullerton finished 16-18 overall last season, losing to UC Irvine 92-64 in the Big West Tournament title game and dropping a 66-58 decision to CSU Bakersfield in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
The Titans lost leading scorers Khalil Ahmad (18.2 points per game) and Kyle Allman (17.5) to graduation and both players signed professional contracts to play overseas. Dedrique Taylor’s squad returns senior power forward Jackson Rowe (11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds per game) and brought in High Point grad transfer Brandon Kamga, who averaged 13.8 points for the Panthers last season. Former Nevada commit Vincent Lee, a 6-8 forward, received an NCAA waiver to play immediately for CSF.
The Titans had a less-than-auspicious start to the season, losing to Division II Cal State-Dominguez Hills 83-76 in an exhibition game last Thursday. Senior forward Davon Clark had 17 points and eight rebounds in the loss.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Pope said. “We’re going to have to manage size. Managing size is a big deal for us. We’re going to have to take care of the ball. It’s a really competitive, challenging opener, but that’s what you want. That’s why we play this game. Let’s go tip it up and go see what we can do.”
The Cougars all agree that it’s time to play.
“This is the best time of year, right?” Toolson said. “You have the holidays and you have basketball. It’s everything you can ever ask for right now. We just have to go get it.”