After having the 2019-2020 season end earlier than expected, BYU basketball lost a large chunk of its top talent in graduating seniors Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws and Jake Toolson.
The Cougars weren’t going to be the same.
Alex Barcello knew that and took the challenge on personally. The senior is now the Cougars’ leading scorer (averaging 16.3 ppg) and the go-to man to help teammates off the court.
The senior is also 30-for-50 from beyond the arc. The 60% clip is No. 1 in the nation among players who have shot 40+ threes.
“It means everything to me, just having the trust from the coaching staff and my entire team, to be the leader on the floor and off the floor and just leading this group, it means everything to me,” Barcello said.
The jump in leadership rivals that of his performance (last season, Barcello averaged 9.3 points). And he put just as much work, if not more, into becoming someone his teammates can look up to over the summer as he did his game.
Before the school year started back up, Barcello looked at video of players he looks up to and tries to emulate; guys like Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Steph Curry. The Chandler, Ariz. Native also got back to watching one of his favorite players growing up — Steve Nash.
“Guys who got the ball in their hand and, I mean, they’re really great players individually, but I really think that they expand everyone who they play with around them,” Barcello said. “... Just seeing how I can create for my teammates, get them the ball and positions that they’re comfortable in, that they find easy to score in.”
BYU AT SAINT MARY’S
When • Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN2
Barcello’s impact on the team was noticeable early this season, scoring a career-high 25 points in the season opener against Westminster. The senior went on to score 20 or more points in six of the Cougars’ first nine games (in one of the three remaining games he scored 19 points).
Barcello has only been held to single-digit scoring three times so far this season, the first time scoring only eight points in the Cougars’ 79-53 loss to USC.
It became clear to opponents that if Barcello gets shut down, BYU gets shut down. Barcello has noticed the difference in how he is now guarded. Teams are trying not to let him get a catch and sometimes blitz Barcello on ball screens.
“Like I saw against Gonzaga, they really weren’t trying to let me get a catch in some of our offensive concepts,” said Barcello, who only scored nine points against the Zags. “But we’ve been practicing throughout this entire week. … We’ve talked about it as a team, how we’re going to play through that if teams do continue to throw that defense at me.”
While the Zags’ defense did a good job of shutting down Barcello, BYU coach Mark Pope wouldn’t place the loss on the senior’s performance. The second-year coach said it was not an individual let down, but was disappointed with everyone’s performances.
Whether or not Barcello is able to score, the remainder of the team — including himself — need to figure out how to get around the issue and come out with a win.
“[The Gonzaga game] was a much different feel than the USC game, even though it was similar results,” Pope said.
Barcello will remain a key piece of BYU’s success. While the Cougar have only played one game in the last three weeks, they are just now delving into their conference schedule.
“He’s been really, really assertive and really, really tenacious — not in terms of manufactured numbers, but in terms of finding ways to lead this team,” Pope said. “And he’s been inexhaustible that way. It’s all the little things that have made him a special leader of this group.”