Danny Ainge praises BYU’s Alex Barcello, says he is ‘rooting hard’ for women’s basketball team

Ainge, the CEO of the Utah Jazz, spoke to reporters at halftime of the men’s basketball team’s win over Portland after the 1980-81 BYU team was honored.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former BYU basketball player Danny Ainge who was just named CEO of the Utah Jazz is congratulated prior to the Jazz game against the LA Clippers at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Ainge attended the BYU men's basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022 and talked to media at halftime after the 1980-81 Cougars team was honored.

Provo • Danny Ainge walked out onto the Marriott Center court and soaked in the raucous cheers the BYU fans gave. He was the last member announced of the 1980-81 BYU team that was honored at halftime of the Cougars’ 78-65 win over the Portland Pilots.

Ainge is a BYU legend in his own right, helping that ‘80-81 team reach the Elite Eight, a feat not yet matched by any other Cougars team since. Afterward, he enjoyed a lucrative NBA career with the Boston Celtics (and other teams) as a player and executive, and last month was named the CEO of the Utah Jazz.

So to say Ainge knows basketball would be an understatement. After the ceremony at halftime, Ainge spent some time with a few reporters and talked about some memories of the ‘80-81 team, and also commented on the current state of the men’s and women’s basketball programs at BYU.

The most specific comments he made centered around senior guard Alex Barcello, who recently surpassed 1,000 points in his BYU career.

“Alex is a fantastic player,” Ainge said. “He’s a joy to watch. He maximizes his abilities with great character and work ethic and sacrifice, unselfishness — all the coach cliches. He’s a coach’s dream. I’ve really appreciated and enjoyed watching him play.”

Ainge said that since he’s graduated, he’s kept regular tabs on the men’s basketball program. Some seasons, he’s seen every game, he said.

“Thank goodness I watch basketball for a living,” Ainge said.

The Jazz executive also said he has attended two games of the women’s basketball team, which won Saturday and improved to 15-1 on the season and is No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25. He added that the women’s program was impressive even when he played, but he has certainly taken note of the Cougars women this season.

“It’s fun to watch them,” Ainge said. “I’m rooting hard for them.”

Coach Mark Pope said Ainge has been “super generous” with his time and basketball knowledge, and it’s not necessarily related specifically to BYU.

“What I love talking to Danny about is just the trends and the direction of the game because he’s kind of the front vanguard,” Pope said. “And then whoever can get close to that front is actually going to win.”

Ainge reminisced on the 22,000 fans who would come to the Marriott Center to see him, Greg Kite and others. Just after the ceremony, one fan in the called out to Ainge and asked for a selfie. Ainge obliged.

But the former BYU great did acknowledge, in a tongue-in-cheek way, how much time has passed since his glory days as a Cougar.

“It’s nice to hear them yell even though they really don’t know who we were,” Ainge said with a laugh.