BYU gears up for Southern Utah as Mark Pope approaches his first signing day

(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.

Provo • Seven months after taking over the BYU men’s basketball program from former head coach Dave Rose, Mark Pope is gearing up to welcome his first recruiting class.

The Cougars are expected to welcome at least two players — Spencer Johnson and Richie Saunders — to the family in Wednesday’s Signing Day before hosting Southern Utah at 7 p.m.

Pope calls BYU is an “unbelievable product,” which makes it easier to sell.

“So, those things have been really fun and really interesting and it leads to all kinds of off-the-beaten path conversations that, frankly, I don't have recruiting anywhere else,” Pope said. “I think because of that, in the recruiting process, you even have to develop a more intimate relationship with these young men and figure them out even more.”

Johnson was the first commit of the Cougars’ 2020 recruiting class, announcing the news on his Twitter Oct. 18.

The 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore from Salt Lake Community College initially started his career at Weber State, which he signed with before his church mission. After half a season in Ogden, Johnson transferred to Utah Valley where he redshirted.

He ultimately transferred to SLCC last summer.

When Johnson comes to BYU, he will still have three years of eligibility left.

Johnson was a 2-star recruit out of high school in 2016, where he averaged 19.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game his senior season at American Fork.

Saunders, a product of Wasatch Academy, also received offers from Creighton, Oregon State and Utah, but announced his commitment to BYU in an Instagram post Oct. 30.

The three-star 6-foot-5 guard is rated as the 146th best player in the 2020 class by 247 Sports and third best player in the state of Utah.

He averaged 11.5 ppg on 47% shooting as a junior last season.

However, Saunders is expected to serve a church mission before coming to BYU in 2022.

The Cougars currently have five seniors on the roster — Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Taylor Maughan, Dalton Nixon and Jake Toolson.

With the exit of some of the team’s best shooters, the Cougars will look to replenish.

Arizona transfer Alex Barcello has proven to be a great addition, averaging 14 points per game. He will only have one more year of eligibility left after this season.

There shouldn’t be much surprise come Wednesday, but Pope said he’s enjoyed recruiting at BYU so far, even if it has differed significantly from how he did things at Utah Valley the last four years.

“I spent more time recruiting freshmen here than certainly I did in the last four years, and that’s a way different dynamic,” Pope said.


At the Marriott Center, Provo, Utah

Tipoff » Wednesday, 7 p.m. MT

TV » BYUtv

Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143

Records » BYU 1-1; SUU 2-0

All-time series » BYU leads 11-0

Last meeting » BYU 70, SUU 55 (Dec. 21, 2007)

About BYU » The Cougars are coming off disappointing 76-71 loss to former Mountain West rival San Diego State. … TJ Haws leads the team in scoring, averaging 15 points per game. Junior Alex Barcello isn’t far behind, averaging 14 points per game. … After two games, the Cougars are shooting 47% from the field, 40% from beyond the arc and 71% at the line.

About SUU » The Thunderbirds return to Marriott Center for the first time since Dec. 21, 2007. … Wednesday’s game is part of the Maui Invitational tournament, otherwise known as “Maui on the Mainland.” … SUU is coming off a double overtime 79-78 victory at Nebraska — the T-Birds’ first win against a Big Ten opponent ever. … SUU is le by Dwayne Morgan, who is averaging 18.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.