Provo • Several times during BYU’s recent basketball season, assistant coach Heath Schroyer marveled at how differently the program is perceived by its fans now versus the first time he was in Provo 20 years ago.
Schroyer left coach Dave Rose’s staff March 15, the day after the Cougars lost to Stanford in an NIT first-round game, to take the head coaching job at McNeese State. He previously was on Steve Cleveland’s staff at BYU from 1997-2001.
“Heath would say, ‘It is amazing. I come back to the state of Utah and you have people talking about this program like it is not going anywhere, but outside Utah, everybody is like, wow, BYU, 20-plus wins every year, in the NCAAs or NIT every year. That’s unusual,’” said assistant coach Quincy Lewis.
There’s no doubt that Schroyer left his mark on the program in his second stint: Players were more focused on the defensive end and the halfcourt offense improved. Possessions were valued more.
But was the 24-11 season a success? Citing the way the Cougars overcame the unexpected losses of stars Eric Mika and Nick Emery and advanced to the West Coast Conference tournament championship game with a stirring semifinal victory over No. 20 Saint Mary’s, Lewis says it was.
“You look at our season, and you have to say it was a successful season, for sure, especially with the curveballs that came out of nowhere with Eric and Nick,” said Lewis, who just completed his third season under Rose. “We certainly wanted to get to the NCAA Tournament. But when you step back and look at it all, you have to say we had a good year.”
Mediocre or making progress?
Lewis acknowledges that 20-win seasons aren’t what they used to be, with teams now playing more than 30 games a year and the Cougars’ conference schedule not all that difficult with the exception of four meetings with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
“Our goal is to get in the NCAA Tournament and have the opportunity to be good enough to advance,” Lewis said. “So we look at this season, and we want more from where we are at right now, for sure. That being said, coach Rose is a victim of his own success. … So I hope [fans] can see there are both sides to it. We are not satisfied with where we are at, but where we are at is pretty good, too.”
Rose generally doesn’t meet with reporters to discuss the season and look ahead to the next one until after he returns from the Final Four in early April. After the Stanford loss, he was asked by the BYU Sports Network if he feels like his success is appreciated.
“You will never get everybody on the same page as far as what they appreciate and what they don’t,” he said, shrugging off the question before thanking fans for helping him win the 2018 Infiniti NCAA Coaches Charity Challenge on social media.
Rose told the network that the future looks bright if the senior-less team returns intact. The biggest concern in that regard is that rising junior Yoeli Childs or rising senior Elijah Bryant, or both, will turn professional.
“I didn’t have to fight this team,” Rose said. “This team had great leadership. It was a really good practicing team, and they did a good job of being able to get off of the bad stuff and get on to the good stuff, and that probably is a lot of the reasons why I felt like [the season] has kinda flown by a little bit. I believe we established some real roots with this group that we can build and grow on, and I look forward to the challenge.
“I know these guys will give us everything they’ve got and the offseason will be full of real work and positive improvement by these guys because they are all competitors and they want to get better, and they know what we can do if we get it all moving in the right direction,” Rose continued.
Rose: We need to shoot better
Lewis and Rose said the Cougars have to improve their outside shooting. They were a middle-of-the-pack shooting team from 3-point range, at 34.7 percent. That ranked them 192nd out of 351 teams in Division I college basketball.
“We will step back and we will evaluate every little part of what we do, from defense to offense to transition on both sides of the ball and rebounding,” Lewis said. “And shooting will certainly be one of those areas. We didn’t have as good of a shooting season as we are capable of.”
Most notably, sophomores TJ Haws and Zac Seljaas struggled from beyond the arc after outstanding freshman seasons from 3-point range. Haws dropped from 40 percent to 31 percent and Seljaas from 50 percent in 2015-16 to 29 percent this season.
“TJ had a good year as far as being a well-rounded player; his assist-turnover ratio was excellent,” Lewis said. “But he’s a better shooter than he showed. I would say the same thing with Zac. I thought Zac did a lot of good things for us that didn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. But he’s a better shooter than he showed. His freshman year he was a way better shooter.”
The Cougars were just 6 of 27 (22 percent) from long range in the loss at Stanford and 6 of 19 (31 percent) in the title game loss to Gonzaga.
“One of the real focuses and emphasis in the offseason with this group will just be time in the gym shooting the ball. We can all become better shooters,” Rose said. “I think this is a better shooting team than maybe our numbers actually played out this year. We are going to challenge them.”
Is help on the way?
Returning missionaries Gavin Baxter and Connor Harding will join the team this summer; the only freshman Rose signed last November, Timpview guard Hunter Erickson, will leave on a mission this summer. Rose and assistant coach Tim LaComb said they just missed on signing a player from Russia last summer because he couldn’t get a score required by BYU on a language proficiency test.
The player is believed to be Agasiy Tonoyan, a 6-foot-8 forward. BYU coaches have stayed in touch with Tonoyan, but they’ve got a scholarship crunch on their hands, Lewis acknowledged.
“We have to sort some things out with our roster before we can really move forward on other things,” Lewis said. “You can’t give out a scholarship if you haven’t got one, right? Over the next few weeks, even a couple weeks after that, we have to really sort out exactly what our roster is going to look like and what our needs might be.”