I got the opportunity to talk alone to BYU point guard Matt Carlino on Tuesday night after the Cougars practiced in EnergySolutions Arena in preparation for tonight's 7 p.m. contest with Montana, part of the advance work for this story in today's Tribune about the Cougars' situation at point guard.
Basically, Carlino has lost the starting point guard spot he held the last half of last year and for the first five games this season to senior Craig Cusick.
Carlino confirmed that Cusick will start tonight against the Grizzlies, and he will come off the bench.
My biggest takeaway from our five-minute chat, though, was that Carlino has not lost any confidence in his ability. He's saddened by the demotion, but still believes his best days as a Cougar are ahead of him. He's also quite bullish on this team, which to outsiders appears to have some major deficiencies.
"I would say there is a lot more to come from Matt Carlino," Carlino said. " I think even moreso, [BYU fans] haven't seen the best of this team. I think we have a lot of room to grow. I think this team is a lot better than last year, in my opinion. I think so far we have been playing about the same as last year's team. I think we have a lot of room to grow with this team, and I am just excited for it."
Carlino said he knows as well as anyone that he's simply not shooting the ball well. He's taking better shots than he did last year when he was often accused of forcing shots that weren't there. They just aren't falling.
"I know that I'm a better shooter," he said. "It is hard to say, because a lot of shots have felt good when they left my hand. It is probably a matter of just getting into the flow of the offense. I shot a lot more last year, so it is like when you don't shoot the ball as much, when you do get the chance you gotta knock them down more. So it is not like you are going to get your shots all the time, so when you do, you have to be in rhythm."
When I asked him if he would prefer to start, Carlino said "it really doesn't matter to me."
He continued: "I mean, I just want to play. I think I can really help this team. So as long as I am playing, it really doesn't matter to me. As long as I am helping my team win, I am fine."
Clearly, BYU coaches believe that Cusick is better at controlling the pace of a game, a pace to their liking, than Carlino is right now. Still, Carlino is not turning the ball over nearly as much as last year. He has had 31 assists through six games, with just 12 turnovers.
Last year as a freshman Carlino had 115 assists and 75 turnovers.
"I think I have just gotten a lot stronger, and have better ball control, and just playing even that half a year last year, I learned so much just watching myself and just watching other good point guards last year.
I think it is just maturing, is what that is. Obviously, I am focusing on not having turnovers. I think just maturing is more of just a reflection of that," he said.
BYU coaches right now believe they need a steadier hand at the point guard position, and that pretty much describes the 6-2 Cusick. He had five points, three rebounds and two assists, a steal and two turnovers in 33 minutes against Cal State Northridge.
"Like all of us, as a team, we are all here to do our best, and whatever is best for the team [is what I will do]," Cusick said Tuesday night when I asked him about getting the start last week. "So last game I was able to start, but you never know what is going to happen. Different games fit different people better, and so from one game to the next, you never know what is going to happen. We are just here to play together as a team and do whatever we are asked by the coach."
Cusick flinched a bit when I asked him what he did to earn the starting spot.
"I don't know if I think I earned it, but I just think anyone on this team could start. I think really we are that deep this year that the talent on this team as everyone continues to learn the program and how we do things as a team here. The team is so deep and talented that anyone could start," he said. "I was just fortunate to be able to be in the right spot at the right time, and coach felt the need for me to start the last game, so it worked out."
BYU coach Dave Rose spent some 10 minutes talking to reporters after Tuesday's practice at EnergySolutions Arena. Here are more of Rose's responses:
On BYU playing in an NBA Arena:
"Our guys love it. Our guys love to play in these arenas, especially at the end of the year. If you are playing in one of these at the end of the year you are probably playing in the NCAA Tournament. So those are great venues. Hopefully our guys play well. I think there is a real art for being able to have something a little bit different that excites you, but still being able to execute a game plan, prepare the same way, but being able to go out and perform the way that your teammates and your coaches expect you to perform."
On why BYU keeps playing at ESA:
"We did it once, and it was a great crowd, a great experience. And then these people here [the Jazz] have been just terrific. They want us to come play, and that has been really good for us. I think this year especially they really worked with us because of Virginia Tech's situation, the only time they could come play us was late in December, and we usually play this game a little earlier than that. So [the ESA people] asked us if we wanted to play twice, and that worked out well."
On the starting lineup and whether he is still in tinkering phase:
"We are going to change it tomorrow, so it will be a little bit different. But we are just trying to ...I think I am actually really pleased with how we start games, OK?. I am looking for the best way to continue that start. If that is maybe to move a couple guys, or a guy or two to the bench, or move a guy off the bench into the starting lineup, we are still figuring that out."
On Montana being a team with great shooters:
"Well this will be a real challenge because they have good size inside, and they run their stuff really well. They screen hard, and they are really precise in their halfcourt offense. They change defenses well. Our gameplan will be to get to the shooters on the catch. They catch that ball, we can't still be three or four feet away trailing off screens. We got to be there on the catch and try to make them create shots.
They are good. Their senior in the post is a guy who can hit big shots. I think the challenge is, we played Northridge last week and they had a group of 12, 13 guys who were 6-0, and they were really confident, and you had to break through that confidence and beat them. This group here [Montana] has a tradition of winning. They won the past year, the year before. They have been to the NCAA Tournament. These guys are really confident in their ability to win games as a group, tradition-wise. That's kind of what our challenge will be. It won't take one punch. It is going to be a pretty tough fight."
On Saturday's game vs. Iowa State:
"Tomorrow's game. That will be our biggest challenge. If that doesn't work out right, then we got a whole group of things on Thursday that we got to go through. So let's figure out how to win tomorrow."
On Ambrosino's progress:
"We are trying to help Agui with his confidence, because he is a good player. But this system is a lot different than anything he has played in before. There are a lot of things involved. And I think that the most important thing for him is to realize coaches really believe in him, and he's going to be a good player. He just needs to get out there more and feel more comfortable."
On Tyler Haws being a winner:
"First of all, I have watched him play for most of my life, it seems like. When he was a freshman in high school he was starting on his high school team. You watch that, and he just makes winning plays. His high school coach is a great coach, and we have had a lot of conversations about his ability to effect the game for good.
We really felt that when he came, that that is what he would be able to do here. His first year, he was on one of the winningest teams in the history of the school. We hope that continues."
On whether it is easier to get a game at ESA:
"It is just tough. It is tough to schedule. We had three different teams that were committed to this game, and Montana is the one that actually stayed in there. The others bailed out on us. So it is hard. It is a challenge. This is a tough week for us. It has been that way every year with Christmas Around the World in the Marriott Center. And ESA is helping us."
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