BYU’s Mark Pope Sees Transfer Portal Tying Into Mission Of Faith-Based School

Apr 8, 2022, 4:17 PM
BYU Basketball - Mark Pope...
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope talks with his players after the game as BYU defeated Long Beach State in an NIT game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. BYU won 93-72. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – Count BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope as a supporter of the NCAA’s Transfer Portal.

That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Pope, who just completed his third year leading BYU hoops, has landed some blue-chip talents out of that portal. Most notably, guard Alex Barcello. Barcello moved to Provo after two years with the Arizona Wildcats and started in all 94 games that Pope has coached at BYU.

Mark Pope himself was a transfer, long before the Transfer Portal was ever a thought. The former star recruit left his home Washington Huskies to win a National Championship at Kentucky in 1996.

The Transfer Portal has been a hot topic in college athletics. With a new constitution being approved in the NCAA that lets Division I govern themselves away from Division II and Division III, the idea of guardrails has been brought up to not let the Transfer Portal consume everyone’s time 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Transfer Portal is already up to 1,245 entrants this 2022 cycle and still growing this off-season.

At the end of the day, is the portal a good thing for college basketball? The always upbeat, big personality Pope, when asked by KSL Sports about the portal, is focusing on the good that the portal brings to student-athletes.

Mark Pope weighs in on whether the Transfer Portal is good or not for college hoops

“I don’t know. I mean, it’s good and bad, like everything’s good and bad, right? But the portal is what we got,” said Pope. “So what we’ll do is focus on the greatness of the portal. The portal is a great thing and that’s what I’m going to choose to focus on.”

Since Pope and his staff arrived at BYU from Utah Valley in 2019, they’ve picked up nine players out of the Transfer Portal. Five of those nine have become starters, and key pieces to the makeup of Mark Pope’s rosters the first three years.

Matt Haarms, who turned down opportunities from Kentucky and Texas Tech signed with BYU and became the WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Jake Toolson followed Pope and his staff down University Parkway from UVU and became one of the best three-point shooters in BYU history.

BYU Basketball is active in the Transfer Portal

So it’s not a surprise that Pope and have staff have reached out to more than 30 prospects out of the Transfer Portal since their 24-11 season came to a close in the NIT Quarterfinals. It’s a chance for players to get a new outlook on their basketball careers.

“I’ve seen guys come into my program that are feeling a little bit broken and find new life and new determination. It’s almost like, that the change is so scary and so humbling that it lets you start over and reset. For the guy in the right spot in his life, it could change his life forever.”

There have also been instances of players leaving Mark Pope’s teams and moving on to other programs. For example, Connor Harding and Blaze Nield. Both transferred from BYU basketball to Utah Valley. After defeating a nationally-ranked BYU basketball team on December 1 in Orem, the two along with another former BYU guard Colby Leifson posed for a photo after the game to celebrate the win.

Since the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, three players (Jeremy DowDell, Hunter Erickson, and Nate Hansen) have entered the portal.

As long as guys have a chance to enhance their basketball careers, Mark Pope is all for the movement in the Transfer Portal.

“I believe in second chances, man. I believe it. I believe in second chances when I’m the good guy and when I’m the bad guy because these young men get one chance to do this. Meaning, that they get one run through college athletics. So if the best thing for a guy is to take the hit and go through that (transfer) process –which is a really tough process– and get a fresh start, and if he’s ready to use it, let’s go. It’s awesome.”

Transfer Portal ties into BYU’s religious mission

When Pope took over at BYU, there were big questions about who and how he would recruit to Provo. The former NBA player has always stayed consistent that BYU provides an “instant filter” with its honor code and connection to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some guys just won’t be interested.

For Pope, that s okay. He also sees the Transfer Portal as an opportunity to highlight the mission of the school and its faith-based ownership.

“We’re a school of redemption. That’s what BYU is, right? I mean, that’s the heart of everything we believe in here at BYU is second chances. Like we are the second chance school, right? I mean, that’s the Atonement of Jesus Christ. That’s what it is. So, if you think about this transfer portal as second chances then I think it is a beautiful thing that fits in incredibly well here with what BYU stands for, I really do.”

Transfer Portal additions for BYU basketball during Mark Pope era

* = denotes active player

  • Brandon Averette, Guard (Utah Valley)
  • Alex Barcello, Guard (Arizona)
  • Matt Haarms, Center (Purdue)
  • Richard Harward, Center (Utah Valley)
  • Wyatt Lowell, Forward (Utah Valley)
  • Te’Jon Lucas, Guard (Milwaukee)
  • Seneca Knight, Forward (LSU)*
  • Jake Toolson, Guard (Utah Valley)
  • Brandon Warr, Forward (Westminster)

Players that have entered Transfer Portal from BYU during Pope’s tenure

  • Jeremy DowDell, Guard (TBD)
  • Hunter Erickson, Guard (TBD)
  • Nate Hansen, Guard (TBD)
  • Connor Harding, Guard (Utah Valley)
  • Kolby Lee, Center (Idaho State)
  • Wyatt Lowell, Forward (Snow College)
  • Blaze Nield, Guard (Utah Valley)

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for 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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BYU’s Mark Pope Sees Transfer Portal Tying Into Mission Of Faith-Based School