Provo • Two teams that don’t look much like they did a year ago will square off in the Marriott Center on Thursday night as streaking BYU hosts middling Portland in a West Coast Conference opener.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. MT and the game will be televised by BYUtv.
Actually, BYU already looks different than it did last week when it defeated Idaho State and Texas Southern to finish the nonconference portion of its schedule with an 11-2 record and on an eight-game winning streak.
Seldom-used junior guard Kajon Brown left the team and 6-foot-9 freshman forward Kolby Lee joined it as the senior-less Cougars got younger and more inexperienced.
Roster moves in the middle of the season “seem to be more common now than earlier in my career,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “One of the biggest challenges now is trying to keep that roster ‘older’ where you have juniors and seniors. A lot of times kids get a little impatient, or things don’t work out for them. It seems like they are looking for another opportunity to play somewhere else.”
Rose said that he had several conversations with Brown, who transferred from Lee College in Texas after playing his freshman season at Tulsa, for the last month or so and was not surprised when the native of Harvey, La., said he was leaving last week. Brown’s grandmother is ill, and “that kinda put him over the edge where he wanted to get back and spend time with her,” Rose said.
Lee’s addition is a much bigger surprise, because most didn’t expect to see him on the team until the 2019-20 season. Rose said the Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year last winter “had a change of heart” and returned early from his LDS Church mission.
Because Lee had already been accepted into BYU on a deferred enrollment basis last fall, it made it easier to get him into school for the semester that begins in January. Lee’s first practice was Tuesday. He ran with the practice squad on Wednesday along with junior Braiden Shaw, a forward who has yet to play this season due to a sprained ankle.
The Cougars are still missing inside players Dalton Nixon (foot) and Ryan Andrus (knee), but Rose is doubtful that Lee will see playing time this season.
“At this point, you would probably think that he would redshirt this year, but you never know,” Rose said. “You never know what opportunities will come. … You just keep plugging away, see what the next day brings.”
Rose said Lee, who led Rocky Mountain High of Meridian, Idaho, to a state championship last spring, worked out a few times this past summer with the team before he left on his mission, so many players are familiar with him.
“I don’t know how [Lee’s arrival and Brown’s departure] will affect the team,” Rose said. “We will just see. I don’t have any expectations one way or another. I know they are both good kids and I am really excited to have Kolby in the program and wish KB the very best.”
As for Portland, the Pilots have four new starters, including freshman guards JoJo Walker and Marcus Shaver, who have combined to average 21 points per game. The Pilots (6-7) have won two straight and three of their last four.
“It is going to be a challenge,” Rose said. “All of the [WCC games] will be a challenge.”
BYU vs. Portland
At the Marriott Center
Tipoff: 7 p.m. MT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records: BYU 11-2, Portland 6-7
Series history: BYU leads 16-2
Last meeting: BYU 97, Portland 78 (Feb. 23, 2017)
About the Pilots: NBA veteran Terry Porter has a 17-29 record in his second season as Portland’s coach. … Senior center Phillipp Hartwich is averaging 6.9 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds per game. He leads the WCC in blocked shots, 2.9 per game. … Sophomore guard Josh McSwiggan leads them in scoring with a 14.1 average.
About the Cougars: Sophomore forward Yoeli Childs leads them in scoring with a 16.6 average and in rebounding, grabbing 8.5 caroms per game. … Junior guard Elijah Bryant is second in scoring (16.4 ppg.) and has made 32 3-pointers. … They have won eight-straight games and are playing their fourth-straight game at home.