BYU basketball: For Cougars, Zylstra means fill-in point guard
Provo • Brigham Young University's probable starting point guard at least for the first third of the season has an unusual name, an ability to make shots from everywhere and a quirky, positive, childlike attitude that endears him to teammates and fans alike.
No, Jimmer Fredette is not walking through that door to face all those zany, rambunctious Aggie supporters at the Spectrum next Friday.
But 6-foot-6 junior Brock Zylstra is.
Zylstra has actually been around since 2006 except for a two-year LDS Church mission to New Zealand but suddenly the towel-waving, bench-warming, former walk-on with the funky last name who was mostly known for his theatrical antics from the pine last year when Fredette made long-range shots is holding the keys to coach Dave Rose's Jimmerless offense.
Starting point guard appears to be Zylstra's job at least until UCLA transfer Matt Carlino becomes eligible on Dec. 17 (against Baylor), although Rose on Tuesday said "it is still a battle" between Zylstra, junior Nick Martineau and junior Craig Cusick, a walk-on from Orem High by way of the University of Utah.
Zylstra was discovered in Greece, of all places.
That's not entirely accurate, seeing as how teammates have raved about the play in practice of the native of La Verne, Calif., for a couple of years, but certainly Zylstra had his coming-out party during the Cougars' four-game summer trip overseas, leading the team in scoring with a 17.3 average and dumping 26 on the Italian National Team in the finale.
Zylstra's numbers in Greece were eye-popping because his career averages at BYU have basically been non-existent: one point and one rebound per game, roughly.
"I think my [playing] time the last few years has been low because I have been playing behind some pretty amazing players," he said, referencing Fredette and Jackson Emery. "I just had to be patient. It was a life lesson for me to be patient with everything. Coach Rose always told me to bide my time and wait it out. Now I'm ready to take advantage of the opportunities I am being given."
The question that will ring out in Provo this month and half of next month is whether Zylstra can handle the point-guard duties. He's more of a scorer than a passer, and not an exceptional ball-handler. And he hasn't played the position since the summer before his senior year at Bonita High in AAU ball.
Rose believes he can but only after the seasoning that games such as Friday night's exhibition against Dixie State College (7 p.m., BYUtv) can bring. Zylstra has gotten most of the reps in practice the past three weeks, but was just so-so in last week's exhibition opener against Midwestern State. He had five assists and scored six points on 2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range, but committed three turnovers in 21 minutes.
"I think the one thing that Brock has demonstrated over the three years that he has been with us, is that he's a team guy," Rose said. "He did everything we asked him to do in his first three years, and now we are asking him to kind of play a different position, and he's excited about it. That's just kind of who he is. So, I think it is a great opportunity for him, and hopefully he will take advantage of that opportunity. But I also think it is a great lesson to our younger players about being a team guy."
Under the tutelage of assistant coach Terry Nashif, a former BYU point guard, Zylstra said he has worked on his dribbling skills by dribbling a tennis ball around the court with either hand.
"I will do whatever coach wants me to do. Obviously, I have felt more comfortable at the two or the wing, but that changes because I was needed somewhere else. So now I am getting more comfortable at the point, and have just been developing the skills that I need," he said.
Out of nowhere
BYU guard Brock Zylstra's rise to prominence:
2006-07 • Walk-on redshirt on a team that went 25-9, lost first round of NCAA Tourney
2007-2009 • Served an LDS Church mission to New Zealand
2009-10 • Awarded scholarship upon return from mission, averaged one point, 0.7 rebounds per game
2010-11 • Averaged 1.1 point and 0.8 rebounds per game as sophomore
2011-12 • Led team in scoring with a 17.3 average on summer trip to Greece, named the preseason WCC breakthrough player of the year by CBSSports.com.
Friday's exhibition game
P Dixie State College at BYU, 7 p.m., Marriott Center
TV • BYUtv