Mount Pleasant • Give BYU’s former men’s basketball staff credit for landing the Lone Peak Three and a few other top-100 recruits. Eric Mika, TJ Haws and Nick Emery were all heavily recruited prep prospects who picked the Cougars when coach Dave Rose was at the helm. Yoeli Childs was also a great find by former assistant coach Tim LaComb.
But Rose and his assistants came up short in recruiting arguably the two best high school basketball players in the country the last decade who were also members of the faith that owns and operates BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jabari Parker and Frank Jackson both chose Duke and played for coach Mike Krzyzewski for one year before moving on to the NBA, prompting many to wonder what might have been at BYU.
Former Utah Valley coach Mark Pope is now in charge, and his first major task will be to lure one of the top prep basketball players in the country to Provo. His early success at BYU could depend on it.
Meet 6-foot-8 forward Caleb Lohner, a rising senior who is called “Thor” by some of his teammates at national powerhouse Wasatch Academy because of his flowing, curly blonde hair and muscular physique. Lohner, a solid 220 pounds, is listed as a four-star recruit by all the major prep basketball recruiting sites and is one of the top 50 players in the class of 2020. He’s got offers from the likes of Stanford, Texas, Baylor, Michigan State and Kansas.
And he’s LDS.
Lohner started his junior season at Flower Mound (Texas) High before transferring midseason to the private boarding school in central Utah to play for his mom’s cousin, head coach David Evans. Now he’s facing some of the best competition in the country and has the size and skill to change the trajectory of BYU basketball, some experts say.
Is he interested in his church’s school?
“Yes, but probably not any more right now than the other schools I’ve been talking to,” Lohner said during a recent open gym workout session at Brunger Wilkey Gymnasium, a Hoosiers-like facility at the center of a town that has only a few more residents — roughly 3,400 — than students at Lohner’s former school.
Asked to elaborate, Lohner said Pope has already visited Wasatch Academy twice since he got the BYU job a month ago, but getting used to the coaching change has “definitely been different.” He said he was especially close to LaComb, who stepped down when Rose did.
“I think coach Pope and his new staff have done a good job trying to build a relationship from the jump,” Lohner said. “I have appreciated that. So, at this point I don’t know what my chances are of going to BYU. They are definitely still in the picture for me. I am pretty wide open with recruiting right now.”
A pipeline to Provo?
Lohner’s Wasatch teammate, senior Bernardo Da Silva, signed with BYU last November and was still planning to attend as of late last month. The new staff’s interest in Da Silva is unclear.
Pope has also offered scholarships to three juniors at Wasatch — guard Richie Saunders and forwards Leonardo Colimerio and Mady Sissoko. Like Lohner, Saunders is LDS and spoke on April 30 as if he’s got a lot more interest in BYU than Lohner.
“We are trying to figure out what we want to do, but yeah. it is a cool place. It is a great school,” said Saunders, who played at Riverton High as a freshman and sophomore. “We’ve sort of got that connection because we are both LDS. That’s our church’s school so of course we’ve always followed them.”
Saunders said he is planning on a church mission; Lohner said he is not.
What about that hair?
Asked whether BYU’s Honor Code — which bans facial hair unless one has a beard card and does not allow long hair — would keep him away, Lohner shook his head.
“No, of course not,” he said. “I think I would do a fine job of living the Honor Code. I wouldn’t have a problem. That’s definitely not anything I would hold against BYU.”
Chopping off the hair, he acknowledged, would be difficult. The affable and well-spoken teenager who plays guitar in an alternative rock band called AVID and likes to surf and be around the ocean said he will “probably” come out with a list of his top five schools soon, but will keep it to himself.
“I am not going to announce it to the world and get on Twitter with it and all that,” he said. “That’s just not who I am. I will start slowly and think about where I would fit, where I am going to be the most successful, and who is going to help me reach my goals. And after I go through those topics, I will figure out which school that fits.”
Those goals, Lohner said, include “a successful college career and then playing at the next level, hopefully in the NBA.”
Plenty of connections to BYU
Lohner’s father, Matt Lohner, graduated from Provo High in 1991 and was a 6-foot-1, 175-pound guard on Roger Reid’s teams in 1991-92 and from 1994-96. Evans, a former BYU-Hawaii star who interviewed for the BYU job that went to Pope, said that connection will play in BYU’s favor, but the competition for Caleb Lohner is fierce.
“I think Caleb will narrow it down pretty soon,” Evans said. “And he’s been offered by a lot of high-level schools. But BYU is definitely on his list right now."
Lohner said it was “really sad” when LaComb left BYU and the assistant coach’s absence there “pushed BYU away a little bit at first, just because he and I had a really good connection. He cared about me as a person and a player.”
However, after Pope’s visits, that feeling “has kind of passed” and he’s willing to listen to what the new coach has to say. LaComb also belongs to a rock band, The Party Hounds.
“It is almost nice that Tim is not a coach, because now I can spend more time with him under the rules of the NCAA. So, that’s been fun,” Lohner said. “I called him yesterday and we just talked. We have a lot in common. He’s invited me to his band’s gigs. That’s my dude, for sure."
Is BYU his future school? For now, he’s just not sure.
ABOUT CALEB LOHNER
• Rising senior at Wasatch Academy has offers from Stanford, Baylor, BYU, Michigan State, Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas and others
• A 6-foot-8 forward from Flower Mound, Texas, joined the talent-laden Tigers midseason and averaged 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game
• Plays on the Drive Nation AAU basketball team in the offseason and is a four-star recruit according to Rivals.com, 247sports.com and prephoops.com
• His father, Matt Lohner, graduated from Provo High and was a lightly used guard at BYU under coach Roger Reid in 1991-92 and 1994-96.