COUGAR TRACKS

Emotions High For BYU Basketball In Aftermath Of NCAA Tournament Cancelation

Mar 12, 2020, 9:43 PM | Updated: 9:45 pm

PROVO, Utah – We have to remember that there’s more to life than to sports. The Coronavirus Pandemic is showing us that right before our own eyes. But that doesn’t make the loss of sports, specifically the NCAA Tournament, any less difficult to process.

BYU basketball who was experiencing its best season in nearly a decade is trying to cope that their memorable year is now over.

BYU head coach Mark Pope spoke with the media via teleconference on a mobile app Thursday evening as he tried to wrap his mind around the thought that the ride with his 2019-20 BYU basketball team wouldn’t have any more games.

The group that had overcome all of the hurdles thrown their way from suspensions, coaching changes, injuries, sicknesses saw the season come to a close with a 24-8 record and No. 14 ranking when the NCAA announced they would be canceling the tournament that makes March one of the best on the sporting calendar.

“I think it’s been really dynamic and really unpredictable for everybody involved, especially over the last 48 hours,” said Pope. “I think the toughest thing for me is that our locker room was really, really hard today. As you can imagine. Most of my thoughts are with my guys right now. This is really hard. It’s devastating for them. Especially my seniors.

They are well chronicled with what they’ve sacrificed and how long they’ve been working towards this and fighting for this and how much of a beating they’ve taken over the last four and five years. And then to do everything humanly possible to earn it and earn it in an extraordinary way … it’s excruciating for those guys and it’s hard for us. That’s our experience right now. If I could control everything in the world we would find some way to have this tournament because my heart is broken for these kids. We were all in a team meeting together before practice today when the news broke and we broke the news to the team. It was the worst locker room I’ve ever been in. It was really hard. Tough day. These guys are extraordinary young men and they’ve got incredibly bright futures in all different ways. So we’ll move on to that.”

From Vegas to no more season

Earlier this week, everyone was in Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference Tournament and the Coronavirus wasn’t a big talking point around the tournament. Now there are no more games to be played.

“It’s an unreal turn of events as we now experienced unprecedented changes to the sports world and the entire world itself. It seems the whole world turned upside down in about 24 hours, doesn’t it?” Pope said. “The speed that things can change and gain momentum is pretty extraordinary. I think it’s sobering for all of us.

“We talked about it a lot towards the end of the season that it just can’t end. It’s too special and this group is too close. We care about each other too much and love to compete with each other and then it came to such a screeching, abrupt, halting end. The reality that we don’t get to compete on the floor again is just almost too much to take right now.”

An emotional goodbye to the 2019-20 BYU basketball season

BYU had seven seniors on the 2019-20 roster and all of them had unique stories of facing adversity to try and lead BYU back to the NCAA Tournament. Pope was overcome with emotions when thinking about not having the opportunity to coach this group one more time as he reflected on what he learned from his first year as BYU’s head coach.

“That’s easy and it’s not even close, l love these young men. It’s an extraordinary and humbling thing when young men are willing to give you their trust,” Pope said. “That is a real gift as a coach. It’s the building blocks and foundations of a group that can be really special. These guys are unbelievably generous to each other and willing to fight for each other and they have been unbelievably generous to us as a staff. Really, at the end of the day, what I shared with them through all the tears was how much I love them and how grateful I am to them that they allowed me to experience all this with them.”

Pope also said the legacy of this year’s team has been established and will be known for years to come.

“There was nothing that could stop this team this year,” Pope said. “It wasn’t suspensions or injuries or a coaching change or roster overhaul or adversity or tough losses or an incredibly difficult schedule. The one thing that stopped this team this year was a pandemic. I do believe that this group was so committed there was nothing that could stop them besides something otherworldly.”

What now for BYU basketball?

Beyond just the NCAA Tournament, the upcoming spring season is an important time in college basketball with Signing Day in April and the evaluation periods next month as well. The NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) has proposed a suspension of all in-person recruiting activities. The NABC has reached out to the NCAA for this moratorium which would mean Pope and his staff could be staying in Provo for the near future.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Emotions High For BYU Basketball In Aftermath Of NCAA Tournament Cancelation