Eye on the Y: New BYU basketball coach Mark Pope’s early recruiting efforts have been eerily similar to his predecessor’s local approach

Wasatch Academy star Caleb Lohner (dark jersey) attempts a shot against Oak Hill Academy in the GEICO National Championships last April in New York City. Lohner is one of BYU's top recruiting targets from the 2020 signing class. | Photo courtesy of Wasatch Academy basketball.

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Provo • Remember when new BYU basketball coach Mark Pope said at his introductory press conference that he would “cast a wide net” and look around the country and world for recruits? It’s early, but Pope’s actions throughout his first month have been quite the opposite.

Not only did Pope release Chinese big man Shenghze Li from his National Letter of Intent, there are rumors aplenty that he might also ask Brazilian wing Bernardo Da Silva to look elsewhere. Former coach Dave Rose, who was supposedly reticent to recruit international players, signed Li and Da Silva last November, along with Timpview’s Nate Hansen, who will depart on a church mission soon.

Meanwhile, Pope’s recruits are three players from his old team at Utah Valley — graduate transfer Jake Toolson and returned missionaries Richard Harward and Wyatt Lowell — and a player he signed last November when he was still coaching at UVU, American Fork freshman Trey Stewart.

Toolson will be immediately eligible because he graduated from UVU. He hasn’t signed yet, according to a source, because he is still waiting to be accepted into a graduate program at BYU. Harward and Lowell must sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Stewart will leave July 1 for a church mission to England.

Pope also persuaded guard Blaze Nield, who just finished a sensational first season at Utah State-Eastern junior college, to bypass several scholarship offers and take preferred walk-on status at BYU, according to KSL.com. Nield is from Lehi.

There’s still time, but Pope seems to be doing exactly what Rose did before him — stock his roster with players who grew up within 50 miles of the Marriott Center.

Watching Wasatch Academy

Pope’s first big recruiting test will come this summer, when talented Texan Caleb Lohner makes his college decision, as we detailed in this report after visiting with the member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week in Mount Pleasant. Lohner, a 6-foot-8 rising senior, has offers from some of the top programs in the country, and could get more.

“Ultimately, my goal is to have a great college career and have a good time playing basketball, and to develop as a player, and then ultimately to play at the next level,” Lohner said.

I asked him about his visit to BYU last summer, when Rose was still at the helm and assistant Tim LaComb was his primary recruiter.

“I really liked it,” he said. “My dad played there a long time ago, so there was a connection there. They made me feel really comfortable without bringing religion into it. They want me there for basketball.”

Of course, that staff is no longer around — a factor that may weigh heavily when Lohner decides because he isn’t shy about discussing his friendship with LaComb.

“The first time me and Tim met, I was a freshman [at Flower Mound High in Texas],” Lohner said. “I was playing in Atlanta, and he came and saw me. He was the first college coach that had ever been in a gym for me. It was super cool — it was BYU, and from that day on, the more and more I got to know him the more and more we found we had in common. So yeah, when he was in Texas, he would go down and do these shows with his band.

“He’d say, hey Caleb, or he would get me up there,” Lohner continued. "He would invite me to come watch him play in the band. So I would get a couple friends together and go watch him play. It was super fun. We have a lot in common. I called him yesterday and we talked. So that’s been fun. Yeah, he’s my dude.”

Our stories from the past week

• There’s never a bad time to write about BYU football, so I put together this piece on what BYU’s offense will look like in OC Jeff Grimes’ second year. Hint: more plays, more quarterback runs.

• In other football news, BYU added to his ever-improving stable of running backs with the acceptance of South Carolina graduate transfer Ty’Son Williams.

• Tribune columnist Gordon Monson waded into the never-ending Honor Code discussion with news that former BYU great Luke Staley is unhappy with the way the code is being enforced and is considering asking the school to remove his retired jersey number from the walls of LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Other Voices

Bill Connelly of SB Nation says BYU’s football program hasn’t risen, or fallen, as an independent. Yeah, don’t we know it.

The Cleveland media is enjoying former BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki’s story and playing style.

• Rylee Jensen, a leadoff hitter and left fielder on BYU’s softball team, was profiled by The Tribune last week. The Idahoan received more attention for her outstanding play in this article by the Deseret News.

• Massive BYU defensive lineman Mo Langi, who drew national attention on Signing Day years ago when Bronco Mendenhall gave him a scholarship despite the fact that he had never played football before, is calling it quits, citing a lingering neck injury, the Provo Daily Herald reported.


Here’s Caleb Lohner’s reply when I asked him if he would struggle with the Honor Code’s restriction on long hair:

“No, of course not. 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.”

Around campus

• Despite a 10-5 loss at San Diego State on Monday, BYU’s baseball team held onto its No. 25 national ranking. The Cougars (31-13 overall, 15-6 in West Coast Conference play) return to Miller Park for the first time in nearly a month to host San Francisco in a three-game series Thursday through Saturday. Nine seniors will be honored before Saturday’s game: Bo Burrup, Riley Gates, Brock Hall, Noah Hill, Brian Hsu, Blake Inouye, Casey Jacobsen, Keaton Kringlen and Jordan Wood.

• BYU golfer Rose Huang placed 35th overall at the NCAA women’s golf regional in Cle Elum, Washington, but did not advance to the national finals. Huang fired a closing round 68, the third-best score of the final day. She leaves BYU as a four-time all-WCC selection and was the WCC Player of the Year her freshman season.

• BYU’s softball team dumped Utah State 5-2 in its final home game of the 2019 season. Emilee Erickson and Ashley Godfrey hit home runs. The Cougars (27-23 overall, 10-2 in WCC play) conclude the regular season this weekend at Santa Clara.

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