BYU’s starting 5 doesn’t include an LDS player, likely the first time in the church-owned school’s history

Cougars coach Mark Pope didn’t set out to make history with the change but says it’s ‘good for BYU’

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Seneca Knight (24) celebrates a dunk in the final minutes in WCC basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Portland Pilots, at the Marriott Center, on Saturday, January 22, 2022.

Provo • As Mark Pope prepared to face Loyola Marymount University last Thursday, he knew he needed to make a change to the starting lineup. The BYU men’s basketball had just lost four straight games, and he had been trying to find some way for the Cougars to return to their winning ways.

So Pope decided to go with a starting five of Alex Barcello, Te’Jon Lucas, Seneca Knight, Gideon George and Fousseyni Traore. He thought those five players would give his team the best chance of beating LMU.

But by choosing those five players, Pope also, without intention, put them in BYU history. It is thought to be the first-ever starting lineup in school history without a single member of the religious institution that owns the school, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is also thought to be the first BYU men’s basketball starting five to feature four Black players.

Three of the five starters posted a photo of the lineup on their Instagram accounts, all of which had captions advocating for diversity. Lucas’s read, “Culture.” Barcello’s read, “One for the books.” Knight’s read, “Making History.”

It’s clear the milestone had significance to the five starters. Pope said Tuesday that the lineup represented a change he feels benefits the university.

“It was a great opportunity, a really terrific moment for our guys,” Pope said. “It’s not a goal here at BYU, but it’s something that’s good for BYU too.”

Knight said taking the photo was Lucas’s idea. After the team beat LMU in overtime, Lucas suggested they post the photo. The group of five agreed.

Knight said he didn’t go to BYU for anything else but to play basketball, but acknowledged the significance of the moment and how it shows a player can be from a diverse background or a non-member of the church and still succeed with the Cougars. He said the photo itself could go a long way for future recruits and their parents who have preconceived notions of BYU.

“I believe that it does give a perspective for people who don’t know much about BYU and are used to the old school and all the stereotypes,” Knight said. “Those stereotypes go out the window when you see that picture of the starting lineup.”

Pope said the team has discussed social justice a great deal in the last two years, and even completed an intensive course on anti-racism. He said under the leadership of figures from Athletic Director Tom Holmoe to the church’s prophet, “We have a mandate to do everything we can to root out racism.”

“That is something that BYU, the leadership here, is fully behind and fully endorsing,” Pope said. “It’s a really important cause. It’s a cause that’s been magnified from the highest leadership levels of this university and from this church. So it’s important to all of us and it’s important to my team also.”