Eye on the Y: New basketball coach Mark Pope moving quickly, by BYU standards, to assemble his staff

Meanwhile, Shengzhe Li, from China, asks for and receives release from NLI he signed in November, citing coaching change

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Pope takes questions from the media after being announced as BYU's new head basketball coach during a press event at the BYU broadcasting building on Wed. April 10, 2019.

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New BYU basketball coach Mark Pope is close to claiming a win over his former school. Utah Valley is hoping for a split.

Pope has moved relatively quickly — by BYU standards — to get former Utah Valley University assistant coaches Chris Burgess and Cody Fueger to join him at BYU.


Because he values the work of Burgess and Fueger so much that he doesn’t want new coach Mark Madsen, profiled here by the Deseret News, to have time to persuade them to stay at UVU. Sources say Burgess and Fueger are going through the typical lengthy interview process that all coaches at BYU must go through. That’s why it seems like the hiring process is going slowly, but isn’t.

There are also rumblings that Madsen is working to find some additional funds to keep Fueger at UVU. Fueger is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and would seemingly have a brighter future at UVU in relation to his aspirations of becoming a head coach some day.

It is believed that Seattle assistant Nick Robinson, the former Southern Utah coach, is also on Pope’s wish list, but the coach doesn’t have as much urgency to get him aboard as he does with Burgess and Fueger.

Meanwhile, it appears that most of BYU’s current players will stick around, according to rising senior Zac Seljaas. There are some rumors out there that Nick Emery might enter the transfer portal, but as of Wednesday night the mercurial rising senior was not in it.

Thursday morning, Chinese big man Shengzhe Li asked for and received a release from BYU from the National Letter of Intent he signed in November. Li’s coach at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California, Jeff Reinert, said BYU is still free to re-recruit Li, but the release means other schools are now free to contact the 6-foot-10 center.

Football news

It has been a fairly eventful week for BYU’s football program, given that spring practices ended three weeks ago.

The Cougars landed South Carolina graduate transfer running back Ty’Son Williams, who picked BYU over Florida State, Marshall and Western Kentucky.

Also, former four-star defensive end Langi Tuifua, a Bingham High product, announced on social media that he has to retire from playing football due to a lingering back injury.

The website FBSschedules.com stirred up that old controversy about whether independent BYU should be considered a Power 5 opponent when it comes to football scheduling.


As usual, BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood spoke frankly and directly when I interviewed him for a story on the BYU baseball team’s remarkable turnaround this season. Most notably, Littlewood believes the school’s refusal to play on Sundays could cost it an NCAA Tournament at-large bid:

“Honestly, I think not playing on Sundays is detrimental to us,” Littlewood said. “So if there is somebody who doesn’t want their team to have to move their pitchers up a day to Thursday-through Saturday, that’s a factor. So I would rather just try to win [the conference tournament]. The RPI is really important. This is a really big series for us up at Washington. If we could go up there and win that series, our RPI could be really good.”

Around campus

BYU’s softball team had won six straight games, but then ran into the No. 3-ranked team in the country, Washington. The results weren’t pretty, as the Huskies pounded out a 13-3 win at Gail Miller Field on Wednesday night.

The Cougars walloped Utah Valley 9-1 on Tuesday, but were no match for the Pac-12’s top team..

Rylee Jensen, a junior from Idaho Falls, was named the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week on Monday after she batted .900 (9-for-10) last week. She had a double, a triple and a home run and drove in four runs and scored five times in a three-game sweep of Pacific.

• Having stunned Stanford in five sets Saturday in Palo Alto in an MPSF tournament quarterfinal game, the BYU men’s volleyball team plays at No. 1 seed Pepperdine on Thursday night. It is BYU’s fourth straight trip to the MPSF semifinals, after winning the tournament last year. BYU’s Davide Gardini is the MPSF Freshman of the Year and teammate Gabi Garcia Fernandez made the all-MPSF First Team.

• BYU’s No. 5-ranked men’s track team and No. 20-ranked women’s team will compete in four different meets in the Los Angeles area this weekend. All-American Rory Linkletter will make his outdoor season debut after traveling to represent Canada at the 2019 World Cross Championships in Denmark.