BYU basketball's future is full of uncertainties
Provo • Jimmer Fredette will get his much-anticipated and much-debated shot at a career in the NBA, fellow guard Jackson Emery will likely get a chance to play professional basketball overseas and the charismatic Logan Magnusson could go on to become mayor of his beloved hometown of Heber City, if he so desires.
The three seniors who took BYU basketball into rarefied air the past few seasons, especially the just-concluded 2010-11 season in which the Cougars won a school-record 32 games and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years, are all seemingly on their way to bright futures.
Can the same be said for the BYU basketball program?
"Transition season" doesn't even begin to describe what's ahead.
The loss of a generational player such as Fredette and arguably the best defensive player to ever don Cougar blue (Emery) is part of it, but there's also some coaching uncertainty looming over the program.
Indications were strong Wednesday that BYU officials were working on a new contract and pay raise for head coach Dave Rose, who turned down overtures Tuesday from Oklahoma. Dave Rice, Rose's top assistant the past six seasons, is also drawing interest from other schools.
Either would be difficult to replace.
Then there's the stark realization that the program will play in a new league next season, the West Coast Conference, against perceived lesser competition, and in smaller, less prestigious venues.
"It will be different, playing in the [WCC]," Rose told The Salt Lake Tribune a few weeks ago. "Whether it is better, worse or the same, we will see."
Rice said the Cougars will play a tough non-conference schedule as a member of the WCC, much like the one league kingpin Gonzaga plays now.
"BYU fans will be pleased [with the schedule]," said the assistant, who does a lot of the Cougars' scheduling work.
Rose loves to refer to most obstacles, or setbacks, as "challenges," and that's exactly what he faces in trying to keep the program where it is now one that's been a mainstay in the Top 25 the past few seasons and climbed as high as No. 3 in the country this year.
"We're going to have [to have] different players step up next year," said rising senior Noah Hartsock. "We might not have a 30-point scorer like Jimmer, but we will have solid players."
But do solid players mean a return to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year?
Assuming he stays at BYU, Rose faces a challenge not unlike his first year, when he took over a club that went 9-21 in 2004-05.
"Well, the most exciting thing is the fact that you get â¦ to coach a team," Rose said, when asked what he is looking forward to next season. "You get to start from the beginning of the season, the offseason, and work towards it and watch guys improve, watch guys gain confidence, watch your team come together and hopefully you can be successful.
"But the most exciting thing for me each year is to be part of a team."
Fredette's offense and Emery's defense are probably not replaceable.
The Cougars will have to rely on balance next year, in all phases of the game.
Also uncertain is the future of center Brandon Davies, a rising star before he was not allowed to represent the team for the remainder of the season on March 1 due to an honor code violation. Davies sat on BYU's bench during the conference and NCAA tournaments, and coaches have said he wants to return to the team.
But that decision rests with school officials, who have not yet decided what course of action they will take regarding Davies' status as a student, let alone an athlete who represents the school.
If Davies leaves, or is asked to sit out fall semester, the leading returning scorer and rebounder will be Hartsock, who averaged 8.6 points and 5.9 boards per game. Freshman Kyle Collinsworth will leave on a church mission to Russia.
Where will the scoring come from?
The Cougars are extremely high on recruit Damarcus Harrison, a 6-foot-4 combo guard from South Carolina who prepped at Christ School in North Carolina. He averaged 12.7 points a game for a superstar-laden team and is widely considered to be one of the top 100 high school seniors in the country.
"He will have an opportunity to play a big part for us from Day 1," Rose said.
The other signee, 6-10 Isaac Neilson, of Mission Viejo, Calif., will go on a mission before enrolling.
Lone Peak High's 6-10 Nate Austin and Orem High's 6-10 Ian Harward will return from missions in Texas and will help the team inside, provided they are not asked to redshirt. Chris Collinsworth will return from knee surgery that cut short his season, bringing his rebounding prowess (5.6 rpg) and stellar low-post defense with him.
Matt Carlino, a transfer from UCLA, will be eligible when fall semester ends and is expected to replace Fredette as the starting point guard. Until that happens, junior Nick Martineau or redshirt freshman Anson Winder will direct the offense.
Senior Charles Abouo shined in the second half of the season and will play an even bigger role in 2011-12 as the team's lock-down defender in addition to providing more scoring after averaging 7.3 ppg this season.
BYU's projected 2011-12 roster
Seniors • F Noah Hartsock, G/F Charles Abouo, C James Anderson
Juniors • G/F Brock Zylstra, G Nick Martineau, F Stephen Rogers, F/C Brandon Davies*
Sophomores • F Chris Collinsworth,
Freshmen • G Anson Winder, G Matt Carlino, G/F Damarcus Harrison, F/C Nate Austin, F/C Ian Harward
*BYU has yet to announce a decision regarding Davies' future in the program after the 6-foot-9 sophomore center was suspended on March 1 due to an honor code violation; coaches have said Davies wants to return to the team.