This weekend, BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales produced a social media post that indicated she was ready to get back to work.
That’s great news for the Cougars her teammates on the BYU basketball team.
Gonzales had a tremendous freshman season, leading the team in scoring and to the West Coast Conference Tournament title. She scored 32 points in a second-round NCAA loss to Stanford and was an alternate on the USA U19 World Cup team. But Gonzales tore her ACL last June and missed the entire 2019-20 season.
“I wanted to make a quick announcement,” Gonzales said in her video. “I hit my nine-month post-op mark from my ACL surgery today. It has been the longest and hardest months of my life but I just wanted to let you guys know that I’m super excited to get back on the court with my teammates, back in practices and back to the grind. Make sure to stay tuned for this next season and go Cougs!”
BYU finished 18-11 overall and 13-5 in league play in Gonzales absence. The Cougars lost in the semifinals of the WCC Tournament and were likely headed to the WNIT.
“When the NBA shut down (because of the COVID-19 virus), a lot of the girls started asking questions about what would happen,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “We kind of knew we were going to the WNIT and the girls were sad they couldn’t play again. They wanted to try and redeem themselves and feel better about the season.”
Judkins said he thought about how the college sports shutdown affected the Cougar men’s basketball team, which was headed to the NCAA Tournament. He also thought about the Portland women’s team, which was picked to finish last in the WCC but won the league tournament to earn their first NCAA berth in more than 20 years.
“Some years you have a lot of good luck and things go your way,” Judkins said. “A lot of that happened for them (Portland). The ball bounced their way. It’s hard when you don’t get the opportunity to go.”
BYU graduated three-year starter Brenna Chase-Drollinger — who made 244 3-pointers and scored 1,304 points in her career – along with starting forward Jasmine Moody and reserves Shalae Salmon and Khaedin Taito.
In addition to Gonzales’ injury, the Cougars went through some staff turnover last summer. Assistant Dan Nielson was named the head coach at Utah Valley and took fellow assistant Ashley Garfield with him. Judkins added former BYU men’s grad assistant Lee Cummard and former Cougar Melanie Day to fill out his coaching staff but it took nearly until July to push through all the school’s red tape to make the hires.
Also, BYU’s strength coach left in mid-August and Judkins was not able to hire a replacement until the first part of November.
This offseason – once the team can start practicing together – won’t feature nearly as much upheaval.
Gonzalez isn’t the only addition to the roster. Former 4A Player of the Year Lauren Gustin (Salem Hills) sat out last season after transferring from SLCC and is an immediate impact player inside. Judkins is counting on redshirt freshman Kyra Beckman (6-2) to step into an important role after sitting out the 2019-20 season due to injury. Former Mountain View guard Tahlia White has returned from a church mission to Washington and impressed Judkins before an injury sidelined her as a freshman.
Judkins also added a pair of Division I transfers during the April signing period. Tegan Graham is a 6-foot guard from New Zealand who played her first three seasons at Colgate. She’ll play right away as a graduate transfer. Kayla Belles played her first two seasons at Michigan State before choosing to come to Provo.
Those players will join three returning starters in 6-7 senior center Sara Hamson — the nation’s leading shot blocker — 5-10 senior guard Paisley Johnson and senior point guard Maria Albiero to form a very strong nucleus heading into 2020-21.
“I’m so excited to have Shalyee back as well as having Lauren and Kyra on the court,” Johnson said. “Those two players are impact players so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Everybody else is getting better. We want big things for ourselves next season.”