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BYU basketball: Coaches learning to manage missionary age change

Trent Nelson | Tribune Fiel Photo Lone Peak's Brody Berry, far right, celebrates on the bench with T.J. Haws, Talon Shumway, Chase Hansen and Nick Emery in the fourth quarterof the Class 5A high school state championship game in March.

By Jay Drew

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 09 2013 12:56PM
Updated May 5, 2013 11:32PM

Provo • Brigham Young University basketball coaches were feeling pretty good about the future and direction of their program when they woke up the morning of Oct. 6, 2012. They had received verbal commitments from five highly touted high school seniors, and were reasonably sure that three of those prospects — Nick Emery, Jakob Hartsock and Braiden Shaw — would not require scholarships for the 2013-14 season because they planned to leave right away on two-year church missions.

The other two — Eric Mika and Luke Worthington — are also LDS Church members but were expected to play right away. Both would be needed to fill the giant void inside when Brandon Davies graduates, coaches believed.

Then came the announcement that first Saturday in October that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was lowering the minimum age requirement for missions to 18 for men and 19 for women.

The thought ran through the coach’s heads: What if Mika or Worthington decided to leave on missions first, now that they could as 18-year-olds?

"We knew right away it could be an issue," said coach Dave Rose, whose Cougars continue West Coast Conference play Thursday night by hosting Pepperdine at the Marriott Center. "There were some [anxious] moments."

Turns out, their fears were unfounded.

Mika, the 6-foot-9 senior who is ranked as the No. 8 center and No. 76 player in the class of 2013 by ESPN, tweeted out that day that he would turn 18 in four months and that the announcement had thrown him for a loop. But a few days later he confirmed he would still play his first year, then leave on a mission.

Worthington will play his first year, and then decide whether to go, but he is said to be leaning toward playing four straight years.

It is welcome news to BYU coaches.

"It was their decision," Rose said. "Hopefully in that [recruiting] process we know enough in advance that we can actually deal with it as far as trying to fit 13 guys in a scholarship spot every year. So it worked out well."

Assistant coach Tim LaComb said they try to get a feel for what a potential recruit is thinking in regards to mission plans, but never insist on one particular timetable.

"We leave it up to them, completely," LaComb said. "Our deal with the mission thing is to let them decide. With the [age] change, we wanted them to make a decision and let us know, so we could plan. But there wasn’t any kind of push. We don’t influence them one way or another. It is their call."

Rose believes that because of the change, more and more players will leave on missions before they enroll at BYU (or any other school) and fewer will take the route that star guard Tyler Haws took. He played his freshman year, then left for the Philippines for two years.

"The majority will go [on missions] first now," Rose said. "Kind of the opposite of what happened before."

That means players such as BYU freshman guard Cory Calvert, who decided to play this year when a scholarship opened up last April, will likely be the last of a breed, along with Mika. Calvert said he hopes to leave in May, but is glad he stuck around because he’s logged some valuable playing time.

"I think going on a mission right away is probably the best thing for most guys, and the thing you will see happen with 18 the new age for missionaries," he said. "Then again, I have learned a lot from playing a year first, so who knows? My advice to anyone would be to talk it over with family and do what you think is best for you, for your situation."

Twitter: @drewjay

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