APTOPIX NCAA Auburn BYU Basketball

BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales, right, dives for a loose ball under Auburn guard Brooke Moore during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, March 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

During his career at BYU, women’s basketball head coach Jeff Judkins has been big on summer team building activities.

The Cougars will ride some of his horses and spend time together camping or water skiing. This summer, Judkins has a new boat, so an August trip to Lake Powell may be on the schedule.

He’s in kind of an unusual situation this summer because while most of the roster returns, he has two new coaches to break in. Former BYU men’s assistant Lee Cummard and former Cougar Melanie Pearson Day were announced on Thursday.

Of Cummard, Judkins said, “One of his biggest strengths is in individual workouts. We need that in our program. He still has great connections recruiting overseas. We had five foreign kids on our roster last year and we want to keep recruiting those areas, so we’re really excited to have him.”

The Cougars finished 26-7 last season and won the West Coast Conference Tournament, then advanced to the second round of the NCAA’s. A general consensus among the players and coaches is that the team was close-knit and those relationships were critical in last year’s success.

“We had five freshmen and six sophomores last season, and we all got along really well,” BYU’s leading scorer, freshman Shaylee Gonzales, said. “We went on a trip to Europe and hung out together.”

Gonzales was one of 30 college and high school players invited to try out for the U19 US World Cup team. Only 12 made the team and Gonzales was named as one of five alternates.

That disappointment has turned into motivation for Gonzales, who averaged 17 points per game in his first year in the program.

“I made some great relationships playing with elite athletes from all over the country,” Gonzales said. “I was disappointed and upset that I didn’t make the team. But that will just fuel my fire to come out for next season and work even harder.”

Gonzales said she learned a lot about her game during the four-day tryout in Colorado Springs.

“It really opened my eyes and I realized what I want to work on,” she said. “I want to improve my pull-up jumper and my short range game. And I want to work on my ball handling.”

Gonzales, first team All-WCC guard Brenna Chase and WCC Tournament MVP Paisley Johnson will all return for Judkins along with a half-dozen other players who contributed and are expected to make a big jump this summer.

“The nice thing for us is that Sara (Hamson) is not going to be playing volleyball this year, so she can focus on basketball,” Judkins said. “She’s going to be in better shape and she’s going to be stronger. We’ve had her for individual workouts in the summer for the first time.”

The 6-foot-7 Hamson averaged 4.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore but also blocked 87 shots. Defensively she changes the game and hopes to improve her offensive game this summer.

“Brenna, Paisley and Shaylee are working hard and Maria (Albeiro) will be more in the picture,” Judkins said. “Maria has worked her tail off. Babalu (Ugwu), everything was new for her last year. She’s more motivated to get minutes. Shalae (Salmon) and Jasmine (Moody) inside, those are two seniors who want to have a great last year.

“My team all went home in May. They showed up the second week of June for workouts and they really tried to work hard and motivate themselves. You never know. Last year nobody thought we’d do what we did, but I know this team has decided to get going and improve. That makes coaching them a lot easier.”

The lone senior was Caitlyn Alldredge, who became an emotional leader during her only season in the program. Reserves Ashely Beckstrand and Abby Mangum transferred to Southern Utah and Westminster, respectively. Freshman Tahlia White, who injured her knee in the preseason and redshirted, is serving a church mission. Former USC transfer Khaedin Taito has not been able to shake a foot injury and her status for the upcoming season remains uncertain.

The Cougars will add freshman guard Leilani Otuafi from Nevada into the mix. Fellow freshman Kyra Beckman of Washington state missed her senior season due to an injury and will be brought along slowly. Former Salem Hills standout Lauren Gustin transferred from Salt Lake Community College but because she attended the University of Idaho for a semester must sit out a season.

There will be no foreign trip this summer, which will allow Judkins and his coaches to spend more time in individual workouts.

“There are some things I can do now with so many experienced players that I couldn’t do last year at this time,” Judkins said. “We’re changing some things. I’d like to pressure a lot more this year, so we can work on some of those things. We really changed our offense last season. We spread things out in a five man motion offense. This summer we have time to work on that and get better. This summer we can spend a lot of time doing things that will make us a better team.”

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter

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