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Mark Pope Believes BYU Has Right Pieces To Return To NCAA Tournament

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – New BYU head coach Mark Pope is adjusting well to being at the helm of the Cougars basketball program.

He and his staff have stayed busy in their short time in Provo with filling out the roster and getting their schedule finalized.

Pope caught up with Jeremiah Jensen on KSL SportsBeat Saturday to talk about the adjustment, getting Yoeli Childs to return for his senior season and building a bond with the current players.

“It’s been awesome,” Pope said. “It’s so exhilarating and we are so excited, it’s a monumental challenge and it has all of the ingredients to build something extraordinary special. It’s not hard, it’s not work. You wake up really early every morning and you race to the office not because you have to but because it is so exciting. To see if we can take a swing at this and make something special.”

Yoeli Childs Is Back

After BYU’s basketball season concluded, it was almost certain that Yoeli Childs wasn’t going to return for his senior season.

He was ready to play in the NBA G-League or overseas, even when former BYU head coach Dave Rose retired and Mark Pope was hired, Childs was still certain that he was not coming back to Provo.

That was until recently when Pope convinced Childs to come back for his senior season.

“I can talk a lot,” Pope added. “We talked him into submission. The truth is that the greatest thing about this game, I believe this with all my heart is that it exerts so much pressure on you. There is so much public pressure and personal pressure and internal pressure and of what it does is it finds who you are and that was what Yoeli did.

“Yoeli is the one that came back,” Pope said. “Yoeli is the one that took a hard look at himself and said ‘I love BYU, this place is like nowhere else.’ Yoeli is the one that came back and said ‘I am going to have 15 years to be a pro but I get one year to take a shot at this and do something special at BYU with these teammates.’ So, as much as I would like to take credit for it and sound like some type of genius recruiter, it’s not true. This is Yoeli Childs and he is a really special young man and he loves this University. He has his heart and mind set on accomplishing something extraordinary.”

Childs wants to improve his defense during his senior season and wants to be the West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Coach Pope played in the NBA and knows what Childs needs to do to get to the next level.

“He is going to grow his game,” Pope said. “Sometimes it’s hard for stars sometimes because Yoeli’s a 23 and 12 guy(points and rebounds). Where most rookies will fit in with an NBA team is he will come off the bench, will play 15 minutes a game to start, will have to be a defensive force with relentless energy that can answer the bell when points are needed with big rebounds and be the ultimate teammate of all-time, have a real passion for the game and real juice in the locker room.

“That is the kind of equation to find your way into that league at the beginning. Then give yourself a chance to grow your game into what it could be,” Pope added.

Jake Toolson Returns To BYU

After originally transferring from BYU to Utah Valley, reigning WAC Player of the Year Jake Toolson decided to transfer back to BYU and be a graduate transfer. Coach Pope was excited to get Toolson to go with him.

Man, I am excited,” Pope said. “Jake is a terrific basketball player, he is going to make me feel like a smarter coach. But we have been able to travel this journey together for a long time. One of the hardest things about making a coaching change or taking a new job is that you don’t get to compete with the guys that you have been working with. The fact that I get to continue this relationship with Jake and continue to watch him grow into extraordinary things is a real blessing.”

Making The NCAA Tournament

It’s been four years since the BYU Cougars have made it to the NCAA Tournament, with their last appearance coming in 2015. Pope believes that he has the right players to make it to the big dance, but as a team, everyone has to have the right mindset.

“I think the pieces are there to make a real run,” Pope said. “But this is not a overwhelmingly dominant, talent laden roster that is going to walk over everyone we face. This is a team that is going to matter how much fight we have, how much sacrifice for each other we have, how much commitment and belief in playing the game the right way. I have a feel right now in this early stages that this team might have some good insides. They might have a chip on their shoulder.

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