Provo • BYU basketball coach Dave Rose has been asked the question so many times the last couple of years that he has clearly grown tired of answering it.
Why doesn’t BYU’s roster include more international players?
It is complicated, Rose says, but quickly adds that his staff does recruit international players regularly. For instance, just last summer BYU was heavily involved for the services of a phenom from Russia.
“We had a kid lined up, ready to go, but he didn’t pass the test score,” Rose told The Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday after practice as the Cougars prepared for Thursday’s game at Portland, which has five international players. “Every school has a different test score requirement. Please, wait until the next guy [to ask again].”
The player Rose referenced without naming is Agasiy Tonoyan, a 6-foot-8 forward, according to the website vanquishthefoe.com. Tonoyan visited BYU last May and accepted Rose’s scholarship offer.
But there was a last-minute snag. Tonoyan’s score on an English language proficiency test known as TOEFL was not good enough for BYU, which apparently has higher requirements than any other school in the West Coast Conference. BYU is still pursuing Tonoyan, and the 19-year-old star is still interested in joining the program if he can improve his TOEFL score and get other transcript clearance from the NCAA.
BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb, the program’s point man on recruiting, confirmed what his boss said about the Cougars’ international recruiting efforts, but could not discuss a specific player’s recruitment, per NCAA rules.
Without naming names, LaComb confirmed that “last year we had an international kid, really good player. It came down to the wire and he couldn’t get the clearance.”
LaComb said recruiting international players is complicated and time-consuming, but something BYU has done regularly since he joined the staff in June of 2007 as director of basketball operations.
LaComb said the added expense “isn’t a thing at all” and that if BYU identifies an international player it believes will be a good fit at the school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and can be a “difference-maker,” it will spare no expense in recruiting that player.
LaComb was heavily involved in recruiting the last international player at BYU, Agustin Ambrosino, a Salt Lake Community College product from Cordoba, Argentina. He mostly sat the bench in 2012-13 before turning pro.
Most of the top European and Australian players have handlers, and connections are often required just to get in contact with them, LaComb said. In Tonoyan’s case, new assistant coach Heath Schroyer tapped into some ties abroad to get the versatile star who played a year of high school basketball in Kansas, at Sunrise Christian, to consider BYU.
“There is a culture within a culture of getting those guys,” LaComb said. “At the end of the day, you have to make a real commitment to it, and you gotta go through a lot of different channels.”
There are also amateurism issues that have to be addressed. Most internationals play for compensation at an early age and could have lost their amateur status, in the NCAA’s eyes.
“I will say this: it is not as easy as many would make it seem,” LaComb said. “I know that people talk about it. But we are involved. We just haven’t had great fortune lately. Some places, like Saint Mary’s, that is their niche. Our niche is getting the best LDS recruits we can get, and then try to go get different pieces to put around them.
“There are a lot of [average] international players out there,” he added. “I mean, we could go sign a guy just to say that we have one. But we want to get the really talented ones, those who can make a difference.”
LaComb said that BYU’s international reach due to its affiliation with the worldwide Mormon church is probably overstated a bit by BYU fans and the media when it comes to identifying top basketball talent. Certainly, BYU’s nationally prominent men’s volleyball program has utilized internationals well over the years, he acknowledged. Basketball is different.
Rose said Tuesday that he welcomes referrals from church members across the globe, and that he has “gotten some really good players from stake presidents and people just saying, ‘hey, check this guy out.’”
But most of the players BYU ends up signing are ones the coaching staff have followed for several years.
“The majority of the players in my time here, we’ve seen in person — either at a tournament or we have specifically flown out and watched them play,” Rose said. “But [referrals from members] have been good to us. Hopefully that continues.”
BYU AT PORTLAND
At the Chiles Center, Portland, Ore.
Tipoff • 9 p.m. MST
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 21-8, 10-6; Portland 10-19, 4-12
Series history • BYU leads 17-2
Last meeting • BYU 69, Portland 45 (Dec. 28)
About the Pilots • Former Trail Blazers great and Jazz nemesis Terry Porter is in his second season at the helm and has a 21-41 coaching record. … They have lost four straight games against BYU since defeating the Cougars 84-81 at Chiles in 2016. … Seniors D’Marques Tyson and Phillip Hartwich will be honored on Senior Night. Tyson is averaging 8.6 points per game and Hartwich isaveraging 8.1 rebounds.
About the Cougars • They are alone in third place in the West Coast Conference, a game ahead of Pacific and two games in front of Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Diego. … G Elijah Bryant scored 22 points and had 15 rebounds in their 24-point win over the Pilots last month in Provo. Bryant had a career-high 39 points at Portland last season, making seven 3-pointers in the 97-78 win. … G TJ Haws has recorded five or more assists in four-straight games.