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BYU basketball: Expectations soar for freshman Eric Mika

Published October 20, 2013 12:08 am

BYU basketball • Center averaged 16.4 points for state champion Lone Peak.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Most incoming freshman basketball players wait until they are at least sophomores or juniors, and some never get around to it. But Eric Mika clearly is not your typical freshman — even when it comes to picking tunes.

BYU's prized recruit already has appointed himself director of the music before practices in the Cougars' locker room, and he hasn't even played in a game yet.

Then again, the same could be said of the hype surrounding the phenom from nearby 2012-13 national champion Lone Peak High. It is sky-high, and the 6-foot-11 Mika has yet to score a point, grab a rebound or throw down one of his signature two-hand dunks at the Marriott Center.

"Honestly, I don't get it myself, either," Mika said, shaking his head. "I think [the hype] is cool, but I just think it is crazy how these accolades are coming out without me doing anything yet. So I am trying not to pay attention to them."

Even CBSSports.com got into the act last week, putting Mika at No. 98 on its list of the top 100 players in college basketball. Junior guard Tyler Haws, who actually has scored 1,177 points in his career, is No. 34.

"Mika could be one of the nation's most impactful freshmen," Jeff Borzello wrote. "He rebounds at both ends, has a nice touch and is physical in the paint."

BYU coach Dave Rose, the man who downplays everything, good or bad, including his own battles with neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer in 2009 and this past summer, hasn't been immune to piling on the expectations for the 18-year-old from Alpine.

"The expectation for Eric is huge," Rose said at BYU's media day. "He has come in with quite a reputation as far as his high school career and his recruiting ranking."

Rose then compared Mika's arrival in Provo to that of former Cougar Mekeli Wesley. All he did was win Mountain West Conference Player of the Year honors in 1999-2000.

"We are going to throw him the ball, and we are going to expect him to make positive plays," Rose said. "He's a great runner, one of the best we've had at getting up and down [the floor] and being able to finish."

Mika heard about that as well and only could shrug when it was brought up again after practice Wednesday.

"It is definitely a nice compliment, and it shows that coach has confidence in me," he said. "But it doesn't mean anything. I haven't done anything yet. I still have a lot to prove before I can say anything.

"I mean, they expect me to do well, and I expect myself to do well, but I am not trying to put extra pressure on myself and be some sort of one-and-done freshman. Even if I don't perform at a freakish level, I am not going to beat myself up or be too hard on myself. I know if I play within the system, keep working hard, then I will be able to contribute."

Want more hype?

The website CollegeSportsMadness.com recently named Mika its Preseason All-High Major Freshman of the Year. After all, he did earn MVP honors at the West Coast All-Star Classic last spring against some of the other top recruits in the country, scoring a game-high 28 points. He was ranked No. 28 by ESPN.com, No. 37 by Scout.com and No. 49 by Rivals.com in the prep class of 2013. He was a third-team high school All-American.

"I think [the mention at media day] is because his talent level is ready right now to play and contribute at this level," Rose said Wednesday. "The thing I think we are most impressed with as a coaching staff is his physicality, his ability to take hits, deliver hits. He likes to kind of get engaged. He and Luke [Worthington] are two guys that like to get contact in the post and then play from there. Hopefully that will really help us."

Will he live up to the expectations?

"He will. He will," said sophomore Kyle Collinsworth, the recently returned missionary who got his first look at Mika's game in pickup games and the like this summer. "He's very good. The one thing I love is how he runs the floor. He can get from one end to the other very fast, and he's very athletic."

Not since then-BYU coach Roger Reid lured rural Utah farmboy Shawn Bradley and his 7-foot-6 frame away from the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Kansas in 1990 has a player entered BYU's basketball program with so much fanfare and scrutiny.

Like Bradley did after averaging 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.2 blocked shots per game in his one and only season at BYU, Mika plans on going on an LDS Church mission immediately after the season and winter semester end.

"Yeah, that's for sure," Mika said. "I will probably put my [registration] papers in in February, and then hopefully leave mid-May."

What happens if he has a phenomenal season? Any chance he changes his mind?

"Nope," he said. "I'm going."

Making Mika's story even more amazing is that he seemingly came out of nowhere. Neither his 6-5 father, Ron, his 5-10 mother, Sue, nor any of his four older siblings played college basketball, although Sue set some scoring and free-throw shooting records at her high school in Michigan. He's the fifth of Ron and Sue's children to attend BYU.

Mika's list of schools that recruited him isn't all that impressive, mostly because he committed to BYU early (Dec. 17, 2011) when he wasn't even playing basketball. He was forced to sit out his entire junior season when the Utah High School Activities Association denied eligibility after he transferred from Sandy's Waterford, a private school, to Lone Peak, even though he lived in Lone Peak's boundaries all along.

So he played just one season at Lone Peak, leading the Knights to the MaxPreps.com National Championship and shining in various tournaments against national competition. He credits Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis for turning him into the player he is today.

"He saw my potential and just didn't let me slack off for anything," Mika said.

drew@sltrib.comTwitter: @drewjay —

Huge expectations for BYU freshman Eric Mika

O Checked in at No. 98 on the CBSSports.com preseason list of top 100 players in college basketball.

• Named the Preseason All-High Major Freshman of the Year by CollegeSportsMadness.com.

• Won MVP honors at the West Coast All-Star Classic, scoring a game-high 28 points.

• Ranked No. 28 by ESPN.com, No. 37 by Scout.com and No. 49 by Rivals.com in the prep class of 2013.

• Named a Third-Team High School All-American.

• Helped lead Lone Peak to the MaxPreps.com National Title.

• Averaged 16.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game as a senior, while shooting 67 percent from field.