Provo • Before postseason play began in March, BYU’s Dave Rose declined a reporter’s invitation to rate the coaching job he had done in the regular season among the eight others that preceded it.
After leading his team to the West Coast Conference championship game and its seventh NCAA Tournament berth in eight years, the 56-year-old Rose still wouldn’t take the bait in a 30-minute interview with The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday. But the man who has survived two bouts with cancerous pancreatic tumors, including one last summer, did acknowledge that the season was more emotionally draining and physically taxing than any since he replaced Steve Cleveland in 2005.
How does 2014-15 look for BYU?
Newcomers » UNLV transfer forward Jamal Aytes; Wake Forest transfer guard Chase Fischer; returned missionaries forward Isaac Neilson and guard Jordan Chatman; freshman forward Ryan Andrus.
Key losses » Freshman forward Eric Mika departs in May on a two-year church mission to Italy; senior guard Matt Carlino is transferring with a year of eligibility remaining.
Hours later, a reminder of how difficult the season was for Rose surfaced again when star guard Matt Carlino announced he was transferring to a yet-to-be-named school for his final season of eligibility. Wednesday, ESPN analyst Andy Katz called it a "major loss" for Rose’s program, and said Carlino will be the "hottest commodity on the open market in transfers this spring."
No question, it is a big blow to BYU’s hopes of challenging Gonzaga for the WCC title next year, perhaps bigger than the loss of its only inside scoring presence, Eric Mika. The freshman leaves on a two-year church mission to Italy in May.
Mika will be back, though; Carlino won’t.
After BYU lost a lot of close nonconference games in November and December, and entered January with an 8-7 record, including conference-opening losses at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, Rose benched Carlino (he had handed the starting point guard reins to Kyle Collinsworth a couple weeks before).
The ploy worked, as the Cougars turned their season around in a big way and finished 23-12. But it came at a cost; Carlino said and did all the right things in his new role as a backup, but obviously was not happy despite playing close to starters’ minutes, and will bolt after he gets his degree in June.
There’s nobody on BYU’s roster that can do the things Carlino can do, despite the wild inconsistency that got him benched and ultimately led to his departure.
It all made for an unforgettable, and exhausting, season for Rose.
"All your teams are really special, but this team and this season will always stand out, because [the four-game losing skid in December] was something we had never been through before, and it ended in an NCAA Tournament appearance, which I think has to be considered successful no matter where you coach, or who you are playing," Rose said.
The coach also revealed Tuesday that it took longer to overcome last summer’s cancer scare after the Sept. 9 surgery than his surgeon said it would, and his energy level and general well-being were not optimal when the season began.
"My surgeon said it would be 4 to 6 weeks before I got back to normal," Rose said. "It was actually longer than that. But the guys were terrific. My assistant coaches were just all-stars through the whole process. And I feel great now."
Rose has completed three years of the five-year deal he signed in 2011 after the Sweet 16 run, and reiterated Tuesday that he is in it for the long haul as long as he’s healthy.
"People ask me how long I am going to do it, and that’s basically the answer," he said. "I want to do it as long as it is fun and fresh and I feel good. I still feel like I can really make a difference."
Despite some well-documented struggles on offense and defense, Rose also said he’s "pleased" with the way his assistant coaches have performed the last three years since Mark Pope joined the staff, replacing UNLV-bound Dave Rice.
"I think the group I have is as good as any in the country," Rose said. "This is a pretty cohesive staff. … I don’t see any real need for any big changes."
Before the Carlino announcement, Rose said the 2014-15 team will be better than last year’s version that tied for second in the WCC race and earned a 10 seed for the NCAA Tournament. It will play another demanding nonconference schedule, including a trip to the Maui Invitational in November and home games against Utah, Stanford and Massachusetts.
"I actually like the way the roster breaks down," Rose said. "With the balance of experience and depth as far as our perimeter positions and our inside positions are concerned, I think the roster has great balance to it."
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