Provo • When McKay Cannon began his college basketball career at Weber State after a church mission to Chile, he was considered a defensive liability.
“That hurt me at times,” said the senior from Shelley, Idaho, who transferred to BYU after two years with the Wildcats. “It kept me from getting as many minutes as I wanted.”
So when Cannon made the difficult decision to walk on at BYU prior to the 2017-18 season, he vowed that he would improve his ability to guard people and not let that be a reason for coaches to keep him on the bench.
“That’s something I have come to pride myself on,” said the 6-footer who has started in the last nine games for the Cougars, and 10 overall, this season. “Honestly, it is just about bringing energy each and every day, and it becomes a habit.”
Cannon, who is averaging 3.2 points in 17.0 minutes per game, is expected to make another start Thursday night when the West Coast Conference’s second-place Cougars (6-3, 14-10) play at last-place Portland (0-9, 7-17).
Cannon will have his work cut out for him Thursday, because Portland has some of the best guards in the league, despite its poor record. Guards Marcus Shaver Jr. and JoJo Walker are the Pilots’ two leading scorers.
Cannon showed the improvements in his defensive game last December when he got his first start as a Cougar against Utah State and was tasked with slowing down the Aggies’ high-scoring guard, Sam Merrill. USU’s star went 1 of 5 from 3-point range, 5 of 13 from the field, and committed four turnovers en route to 17 points.
“I just tried to seize the opportunity, like everybody does,” Cannon said. “You do your best to prepare and you never know how it is going to turn out. Nobody is perfect in this game. I just try to put in the work and prepare myself and be ready when the moment comes. I think I’ve done that so far.”
Coach Dave Rose said Cannon became an every-game starter when league play began because of his defense. His minutes increased when junior Jahshire Hardnett missed five games with a hand injury.
“He has just really taken advantage of an opportunity,” Rose said. “The minutes that he has given us have been great. Defensively is where he is really having an effect on the game. But offensively, he is a really good fit. He is playing for absolutely one thing, and that’s to help this team win.”
Nearly every season, Rose finds a “glue guy” such as Cannon; Craig Cusick, Brock Zylstra, Skyler Halford, Davin Guinn and Josh Sharp have filled that role in the past. Last Saturday, Cannon was primarily responsible for holding LMU’s leading scorer, guard James Batemon, scoreless in 30 minutes.
“That’s becoming a habit for him, as far as his defensive play on some of these really good offensive point guards in the league,” Rose said. “He’s really taken a step forward in the last month or so.”
As his college career winds down, Cannon says he has “no regrets whatsoever” about transferring to BYU. His wife, track star Maddie Ball Cannon, also made the move south and is flourishing on BYU’s women’s track and field team as a cross country runner, steeplechaser and indoor miler.
Both have been awarded scholarships at BYU after initially walking on; McKay will graduate in geography this spring, while Maddie will conclude her college career next fall. Then the couple plans to move back to Idaho and work on the Cannon family’s dairy farm.
“It has been quite a ride,” McKay said. “I am just trying to enjoy my last bit of time with the guys. These last few years have been incredible.”
BYU AT PORTLAND
At the Chiles Center, Portland, Ore.
Tipoff • Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 6-3, 14-10; Portland 0-9, 7-17
Series history • BYU leads 19-2
Last meeting • BYU 79, Portland 56 (Jan. 10, 2019)
About the Pilots • They are 2-7 against BYU at Chiles Center and have lost six straight games to the Cougars. … They are led in scoring by 6-2 guard Marcus Shaver Jr. (15.3 ppg.), while fellow guards JoJo Walker (12.2 ppg.) and Josh McSwiggan (10.6 ppg.) are also scoring in double figures. … They are coming off a 69-63 overtime loss at Santa Clara last Saturday.
About the Cougars • Freshman forward Gavin Baxter posted career highs of 25 points and 10 rebounds in their 67-49 win over LMU last Saturday, while junior guard Nick Emery added 17 points on 5 of 5 3-point shooting. … They have won their last two meetings in Portland after falling 84-81 to the Pilots on Jan. 16, 2016. … Junior F Yoeli Childs has 1,439 career points, currently 18th all-time in BYU history.