COUGAR TRACKS

Rise Of Freshman Fousseyni Traore Is Saving BYU Basketball’s Season

Jan 21, 2022, 1:47 AM
Fousseyni Traore - BYU Basketball...
Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) scores as BYU and San Diego play in an NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Mengshin Lin, Deseret News)
(Mengshin Lin, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball has received a huge lift this season from a heralded freshman in Fousseyni Traore.

The 6-foot-6, 254-pound big man that boasts a wingspan of 7’2” has stepped up at every turn this season. Thursday night was no exception. “Fouss” scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and pulled down 11 rebounds in 31 minutes of action in BYU’s win over San Diego.

The former Wasatch Academy standout is averaging 8.4 points 7.9 rebounds per game. Since becoming the starting center on December 25 against Liberty, the Mali native has had four games with at least 11 rebounds or more.

The game comes slowly for Fousseyni Traore

Traore’s rise came at a critical time for a BYU team that lost frontcourt starters Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward to season-ending injuries. BYU is currently 16-4 overall and in sole place of second in the West Coast Conference standings. But, without him, it could be a whole different outlook.

“I’m telling you, like clearly, on the glass, he’s so impressive. This game feels slow to him, like, as a freshman, it’s unbelievable,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “He just doesn’t get sped up very often, sometimes he gets sped up –we all get sped up sometimes– obviously the numbers speak for themselves, him on the glass, him scoring, him defensively with his assignments, him as a rim protector. But the fact that he is seeing this game so slow is pretty great.”

Tackling the rigors of BYU with a close friend

While getting used to life as a high-level college athlete, Fousseyni Traore is also getting used to the rigors of being a student at Brigham Young University. Traore put together a 4.0 GPA during the fall semester at BYU. Much of that is a credit to the hours he and fellow Muslim athlete and teammate Atiki Ally Atiki put in study hall together.

Atiki’s rise on the court has been more gradual compared to Traore. But the flashes have been showing from Atiki have been up showing more often as of late. On Thursday, he gave fans a glimpse of his ability with an impressive block shot on a San Diego player.

“To get a sense of [Atiki and Fouss’] life right now. They were in study hall hammering away at nine o’clock this morning and in between study hall and classes, they finally finished up around one o’clock. It’s unbelievable what these two are doing. In a real sense, they are going a long way towards saving Alex’s senior year and our season. They’ve been thrust into this really, really difficult situation and they are ringing the bell. Can’t say enough good things about these young men.”

Traore’s freshman season is positioning itself to among the great first-year campaigns in BYU basketball history. Danny Ainge was a legend as a freshman, garnering All-American status in his first season, then there was Shawn Bradley who rewrote the record books. But in that next group of great freshman campaigns by the likes of Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Mark Bigelow, Mekeli Wesley, Trent Plaisted, Caleb Lohner, and others, Traore’s impact is on full display this season. It sets the stage for what appears to be a bright future at BYU, that will likely be featured as a foundation for Pope’s program when they enter the Big 12 in 2023.

The son of basketball-minded parents in Mali, Traore’s feel for the game has been one of his strengths. That feel and his maturity beyond his years have teammates such as senior leader Alex Barcello grateful to line up alongside him as the games only take on greater significance with March just around the corner.

“He’s so fun to play with and he deserves everything that is coming to him. Because he’s so talented and the game is slow to him,” said Barcello. “I just love how he comes into every day in practice; he’s so willing to work. And to get better and to listen to these coaches, as well as his teammates, he’s just so much fun to play with.”

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 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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