Got a chance to watch the 2011-12 BYU basketball team -- sans Brandon Davies -- practice for close to two hours today from my perch on the concourse level at the Marriott Center. It was the first practice in preparation for the once-every-four-years trip overseas. The Cougars will leave for Greece, where they will play five games, on Aug. 15.
The practice included 13 players. Sophomore center Chris Collinsworth participated in conditioning work, but did not practice as he continues to rehab a surgically-repaired knee (micro-fracture surgery).
Another interested observer was 6-foot-9 returned missionary Michael Boswell. He recently had surgery for bone spurs on both feet and was in a wheelchair today, casts on both legs stretching from just below his knee cap to his toes.
Players and coaches were not made available for interviews after the workout, but here are a few general observations:
* UCLA transfer Matt Carlino directed the first team's offense and was the best point guard on the floor, if only slightly. Of course, he can't play in Greece (although he will make the trip with the team), but Carlino will seemingly be the club's starting point guard when he becomes eligible in mid-December. He is expected to make his BYU debut on Dec. 17 when the Cougars play host to Baylor.
Carlino is very skilled on the offensive end, and showed some stellar ball-handling and passing.
* Isaac Neilson, the big man from Mission Viejo, Calif., who signed with the Cougars last November, is taking summer school classes at BYU and participated in the practice. Neilson won't make the trip to Greece, and is expected to go on a church mission before playing for the Cougars.
That's too bad, because Neilson showed Monday he can probably help the team inside this year. He was especially impressive on defense, swatting away at least two inside shots. He also showed he can run the floor well. He is pretty fluid around the basket for a big guy -- not a slow, lumbering type that maybe many folks expected.
* Stephen Rogers was also impressive today, having bulked up a little bit since we last saw him in March. Rogers has some hops, a part of his game he really didn't show last season. He had a couple emphatic, two-handed slam dunks today. Along with Charles Abouo, Rogers might be BYU's best outside shooter this coming season. Yes, Abouo looks to have improved that facet of his game. And physically, he is as cut and toned as ever.
* Anson Winder, the Las Vegas native who redshirted last year, also had a strong first practice. Winder seems to be more assertive, more aggressive, this year. It was just one practice, but it doesn't appear that coaches think he's the answer at point guard this year.
* Freshman Damarcus Harrison was just OK today, rarely showing flashes of the athleticism that his teammates have crowed about in pickup games earlier this summer. For his first-ever practice, though, not bad at all.
* Utah transfer Josh Sharp impressed with his ball-handling ability, but he seemed to tire more quickly than some of his teammates. Still, he made some nice offensive plays in transition, which is supposed to be his strength. He will get some playing time this year.
* Neither Orem's Ian Harward nor Lone Peak's Nate Austin is apparently back from his church mission yet. Both big guys will return some time between now and fall camp. Neither will make the trip to Greece. At least one will likely redshirt.
* Point guard Nick Martineau will get plenty of playing time in Greece. Behind him, the Cougars will go to walk-on Craig Cusick, who stays in front of opposing point guards really well and has some nice range on his jumper.
* With Davies not yet re-admitted into school and Collinsworth still recuperating from surgery, the Cougars will have to use Noah Hartsock at the center position in Greece. Rogers and Abouo will probably have to play more inside than usual as well.
* The Cougars will practice again on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with some media availability expected to take place later in the week.