Provo » A year ago at this time, after a BYU basketball practice, Jonathan Tavernari eloquently expressed his sadness over the passing of LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, eulogizing the Mormon leader in an impromptu and heartfelt soliloquy.
The remarks in no small way furthered Tavernari's status as the team's unofficial spokesperson, although the stars were clearly Lee Cummard and Trent Plaisted.
Tavernari is a team captain now, and the Cougars' unquestioned emotional leader who represented them during the off-season in a popular United Way "Live United" ad campaign. He's perhaps the most visible BYU athlete on campus, too, tooling around Provo in a white Blazer with the personalized license plate "JT 45."
But for the last month or so, the junior from Brazil by way of Provo and Las Vegas has not been allowed to talk to the media, a gag order having been placed on him because he "disrespected" an opponent in the press.
Although coach Dave Rose has declined to say why the Brazilian Bomber has been muzzled, or specifically when the gag order will end, a source close to the team said it came because Tavernari said Wake Forest did not play "a whole lot of defense" prior to the Demon Deacons' 94-87 win over the Cougars on Jan. 3.
Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said after the game that his team got wind of the remarks -- which were published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Provo Daily Herald -- and used them as motivation.
Since that time, the mercurial Tavernari has had both phenomenal, mediocre and poor performances, mirroring the Cougars' games altogether, and lately has seemingly changed his offensive approach by taking fewer shots and working to get his teammates more involved. He's also shown marked improvement on defense, a supposed liability that has followed him since he put on a BYU jersey two years ago after a standout senior season at Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman High School.
Off the court, he's proposed to his fiancee, Kiri Redford of South Jordan, in as public a setting as possible in front of 11,000 fans and The mtn. television cameras at the Marriott Center. And there are rumblings that he may forgo his senior season and turn professional, just as Plaisted did last year.
But through it all, there have been no comments to the media, no acknowledgment of where his confidence level is at, or what the future holds for a junior who leads the team in rebounding (7.1) and is second in scoring (16.6).
"J.T., he is progressing well," BYU coach Dave Rose said last week, when asked if the gag order was going to last all season. "There are some things that he needs to do off the floor that we were really concerned with, and J.T. and I have a lengthy conversation at least once a week, and sometimes two or three times a week, and I think he is coming around nicely. I wouldn't expect [the muzzling] to last the entire season, no."
Tavernari's teammates, especially those who have had to pick up the media attention slack, so to speak, say the gag order hasn't really been an issue and most claim they aren't sure what Tavernari said to get the ban.
The other team captain, Cummard, has grown so comfortable talking to the media that he munched on raisins and answered questions (sometimes simultaneously) about rebounding and fast breaks after the Cougars' 84-60 win over Wyoming on Saturday.
Tavernari had just five points that game, his second-lowest output of the season, and took just eight shots, his lowest total of the year.
Yet Rose praised his power forward after the contest, saying Tavernari's post presence on defense was exceptional.
"I think defensively he has helped our team," Rose said. "We have really needed him to become a post presence defensively, and I think he is rebounding the ball really well, especially on the defensive end. He is doing a good job, as far as what we need him to do right now."
Senior Archie Rose, one of Tavernari's roommates (along with Lamont Morgan Jr. and Michael Loyd Jr.), said that Tavernari's confidence and enthusiasm have remained high through the month.
"I haven't seen any change in him," Archie Rose said. "He's the same old J.T. He hasn't missed a beat. He knows he is a good player and I don't think that will change much regardless of what is going on with you guys and talking or not talking and all that."
Fellow junior Chris Miles concurred, saying that taking away Tavernari's tongue, at least publicly, has not made much of a difference.
"If anything, he's more focused than he's ever been," Miles said.
It has been 26 days since BYU's coaching staff announced that team captain Jonathan Tavernari was off-limits to the media for this remark he made prior to the Cougars' 94-87 loss to Wake Forest:
"They are an all-star team, and they play like it is an all-star game. Not a whole lot of defense."
|Jan. 27||at Utah||5-13||2-6||14||6|
|Jan. 17||at New Mexico||5-14||3-7||6||13|