Elijah Bryant’s expected departure leaves BYU basketball with more questions regarding makeup of next year’s team

Cougars will have a difficult time replacing rising senior’s scoring, leadership

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Elijah Bryant (3) defends as San Francisco Dons forward Chase Foster (22) controls the ball,in basketball action at the Marriott Center, Saturday, February 10, 2018.

Provo • BYU’s best player from the 2017-18 basketball season, rising senior guard Elijah Bryant, announced last week that he will forgo his final year of eligibility, hire an agent and pursue his childhood dream of playing professional basketball.

Bryant’s decision may have surprised some fans and casual observers, but not BYU’s coaches, who were genuinely taken aback last spring when their best player from the 2016-17 season, rising junior forward Eric Mika, left his name in the NBA draft. Mika went undrafted and is now playing professionally in Italy.

Bryant’s departure is less of a surprise because the Georgia native is 23, has graduated, and has been concerned for months about the wear and tear another college season will put on his body, especially his knees. His production and leadership will be difficult to replace, but coaches were aware he was at least considering a departure for several months.

“Over the last three years, he was not only a great player and leader on the court, but represented the university and our program in a way that made us all proud,” BYU coach Dave Rose said last week.

While the question regarding Bryant’s future in the program has been answered, several others persist. Rose had yet to conduct his customary end-of-season meetings with reporters who cover the program heading into the final full week of April.

The Cougars’ other star from the team that went 24-11 and fell to Stanford in the first round of the NIT, double-double threat Yoeli Childs, is testing the NBA draft waters as well. Childs has not hired an agent in order to preserve his college eligibility, of which he has two years remaining. He has until May 30 to withdraw his name from the draft, which is June 21.

Radio station ESPN 960 reported last week that Childs has been offered a $150,000 guaranteed contract to play overseas, but provided few details. What is clear, though, is that if Childs joins Bryant in the professional ranks, expectations for the 2018-19 season will drop considerably.

“This is a team that has a ton of potential and I am really looking to grow this team as we get them back,” Rose said after the Stanford loss, but that was before he faced the prospects of losing his two best players.

Another personnel question involves Nick Emery, the mercurial guard who withdrew from school a few days before the opener last fall amid an NCAA investigation into his allegedly receiving improper benefits from a BYU booster. Emery averaged 14.7 points per game in his first two seasons in Provo, but his production dropped his second season as he battled some “personal issues” that he has detailed in multiple blog posts.

Still, his scoring ability will be needed in the absence of Bryant.

Rose has said that “plans are in place” for Emery to return.

Emery has said he plans to return, but after Bryant’s announcement he made a vague post on Twitter that left some wondering if those plans are still concrete.

“We all got big decisions to make in life … just like I do right now!,” he wrote. “Just because we have a plan to do something doesn’t mean life always goes according to plan!”

Is more help on the way?

A pair of highly recruited high school forwards from two years ago, Timpview’s Gavin Baxter and Connor Harding of Pocatello, Idaho, return from church missions soon and will join the program. The Cougars are also still hoping to land Agasiy Tonoyan, a 6-foot-8 forward from Russia who was almost set to join the program last year but couldn’t meet BYU’s requirements on an English language aptitude test.

Rose is also still looking for a replacement on his coaching staff for Heath Schroyer, who left a day after the NIT loss to take the head coaching position at McNeese State.