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New BYU men’s basketball assistant coach has a deep drive to win

Kahil Fennell officially started his new job with the Cougars on Friday

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University new assistant basketball coach Kahil Fennell answers questions about his decision to join the basketball team coaching staff at the Marriott Center Annex, Friday, May 27, 2022.

Provo • Kahil Fennell doesn’t have good memories of BYU.

A Hawaii native who grew up with season tickets to University of Hawaii football, Fennell remembers his Rainbow Warriors losing several games to the Cougars, then quarterbacked by Ty Detmer.

Despite those sour memories, Fennell came to respect the football and basketball programs at BYU. So when he caught wind that there was a possible job opening with the Cougars, he couldn’t stay away.

“The standard that’s upheld here, the tenets of not only the religion but the community and the ability and the want-to to build people up around you, that’s not like other places,” Fennell said Friday at his introductory news conference in the Marriott Center Annex. “That makes this place really, really unique and special, and that’s always spoken to me.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University new assistant basketball coach Kahil Fennell answers questions about his decision to join the basketball team coaching staff at the Marriott Center Annex, Friday, May 27, 2022.

Fennell replaces Chris Burgess, who last month left BYU for his alma mater, the University of Utah. He joins the staff of coach Mark Pope, who is entering his fourth season at the helm.

Pope said the interview process of finding his next assistant consisted of going through close to 100 names, if not more.

“It was an exhausting and exhaustive process,” Pope said.

Prior to his hiring, Fennell was not all that familiar with Pope. But as the two starting talking, the former Louisville assistant coach felt synergy between them. He described Pope as a “force of nature.”

“It’s one of the more unique early relationships I’ve really had in this business,” Fennell said. “I just have such a tremendous amount of respect for his basketball mind. But almost even more than that, for his is energy to be great and his competitive nature. And I think that really matches mine. I think that’s really where we saw eye to eye.”

Fennell also elaborated on his own competitive nature and drive.

“There’s no other options other than to win. That’s it for me,” Fennell said. “All the other stuff — I don’t care if it’s Nike, I don’t care if it’s Adidas, I don’t care if it’s Tiddledywinks. I’m here to win and I’m here to beat people. I think Coach Pope matches that, and that’s a huge thing for me.”

One of Fennell’s main roles will be recruiting. His approach to that, he said, is transparency about what a player can expect playing for the Cougars.

“I try to work really hard at it and try to be really honest with everybody I deal with — whether it’s the player, his coach, his parents, his circle,” Fennell said. “Everybody’s going to know exactly where I stand or exactly where our staff stands, what BYU basketball is about and what’s real here.”

BYU has two more scholarship spots open after Collin Chandler, Braeden Moore and Rudi Williams joined the team. Chandler will go on a two-year church mission in July, but Moore and Williams will play next season. Three return missionaries — Dallin Hall, Richie Saunders and Tanner Toolson — will also join the team for the 2022-23 season.

Before his stint at Louisville, where he was the director of basketball operations for three seasons, Fennell was an assistant coach for one season at Portland State. He also held two coaching positions at UT Permian Basin.

With his experience coaching in various parts of the country, Fennell believes he has the ability to recruit practically anywhere, and also wants to continue what BYU has built in the recruiting space over the past few years.

“I’m going to uncover every rock, near and far,” Fennell said.

Pope said he likes to have coaches on his staff that any player can find a shared experience with which they can relate. With the addition of Fennell, he thinks he has found that.

“Those guys are going to be a force to be reckoned with, and he’s going to be a huge part of that,” Pope said.

One of Pope’s favorite traits when it comes to Fennell is his sincerity. He said it takes as little as two seconds to “feel his insides.”

“I think he’s really honest,” Pope said. “I think he’s got some real depth to him. I think he’s doing this job for the right reasons. He’s clearly not chasing money, for example, because of decisions he’s made in his life. He’s chasing something that’s more meaningful.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University men's basketball head coach Mark Pope listens as newly hired assistant coach Kahil Fennell fields questions about his decision to take the job at the Marriott Center Annex, Friday, May 27, 2022.