COUGAR TRACKS

BYU Basketball Practices Tip Off With ‘New And Young’ Challenges

Sep 26, 2022, 4:11 PM | Updated: Oct 2, 2022, 11:39 pm

BYU Basketball, Practice, Mark Pope...

BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope begins year four of his tenure with practices on September 26, 2022. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball tipped off year four of the Mark Pope era on Monday.

The old school line of thought in college hoops would mean that Pope would have an experienced roster in front of him heading into his fourth year. However, that’s not the case in the era of dynamic rosters and the transfer portal.

“New & Young” roster for Mark Pope

BYU enters the 2022-23 season with a young roster. A new and unique challenge for Pope, who has primarily fielded veteran rosters during his first three seasons at BYU.

“We’ve had a lot of great players roll through here in the last three years and we’ve had three consecutive years of veteran teams. And that’s served us really well, it’s been an epic three-year run,” BYU coach Mark Pope said to KSL Sports. “This year, our roster is much younger; it feels much younger. I don’t know if it’s much younger, or it’s much newer, or it’s both. But it is new and young.”

Training camp practices will allow this young roster with 12 players who weren’t part of the team last year to come together.

BYU is looking to replace three-year starter Alex Barcello on the guard line. Barcello was an Honorable Mention All-American during the 2020-21 season. After an opportunity in the NBA Summer League, Barcello signed a contract to play professionally in Greece.

Along with the departure of Barcello, BYU also looks to replace starter Caleb Lohner. Lohner, who saw his three-point shooting dip to 21%, transferred to future Big 12 foe Baylor.

A former player under legendary Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, Pope, runs two-a-day practices during training camp in his BYU program. BYU began practicing at the Marriott Center Annex bright and early on Monday morning. They will have a Monday night practice that fans can watch on BYUtv this evening.

BYU basketball looks to get back to the NCAA Tournament

All of these practices will be to get BYU back to the NCAA Tournament, a destination they missed last year, after opening the year with so much promise, climbing to as high as No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll.

“We’re going to have some really fun times kind of letting guys rise up on their own and have a huge impact on this game,” Pope said.

One of those guys is Gideon George that will be looked upon to rise up on Pope’s team. After working out with NBA teams over the offseason and having a brief stint in the NCAA Transfer Portal, George returned to BYU to take advantage of his free COVID season.

During BYU’s run to the third round of the NIT last season, Pope said the 6-foot-6, 210-pound George was a “big part of BYU’s future.” That future can be realized this season as BYU enters its final year of the WCC before they begin life in America’s toughest basketball conference, the Big 12.

But that’s still a year away. For some of the players on BYU’s roster, like George, and grad transfer Rudi Williams, they won’t get to experience the Big 12. So they want to win now.

Williams comes to BYU from Coastal Carolina, where he was one of the top three-point shooting guards in the country a season ago, knocking down 45% of his threes.

“I was really looking for, you know, a school where I could showcase my talent and then have an opportunity on a bigger stage, which would also place myself in having the opportunity to play in the March Madness tournament,” said Williams to KSL Sports. “That’s something I haven’t done before, and you know, that’s one of my main goals. So that obviously comes with winning. BYU, you know, they have a tradition of doing that. Coach Pope and his staff have done an excellent job over his first three years there in Provo. So I feel like I want to help add on to that.”

Key underclassmen to watch

Among the returning underclassmen, Fousseyni Traore has big expectations. The former Wasatch Academy product was a star last season as a Freshman. Traore put together one of the best freshman seasons in BYU history, averaging 9.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

Another intriguing underclassman is Atiki Ally Atiki. “Triple-A,” as his teammates call him, has been seen in some social media videos this offseason burying three-pointers. In addition, Atiki, who is 6-foot-10, 215-pounds, during BYU’s combine testing over the summer, Triple A recorded a 39-inch standing vertical leap. An insane display of athleticism that highlights his potential.

In the final month of his freshman season, Atiki had three games where he scored at least eight points and grabbed six rebounds. Coming into his BYU career, Atiki had only played 28 organized basketball games.

Traore and Atiki will have to play big because the frontcourt is an area on paper that appears thin entering the season.

“We have a smaller front line right now. But what Fouss and Atiki experienced last year and what they accomplished in games last year was really special,” Pope said.

To help in the frontcourt, BYU added 6-foot-11 stretch forward Noah Waterman out of the transfer portal from Detroit Mercy.

“This Noah Waterman has a chance to be really special,” said Pope. “He was the 10th most efficient offensive player in the country two years ago and has a great track record.”

New coach on the bench

The roster isn’t the only place in Pope’s program with a new presence. His bench also has a new assistant coach. After three years of the same coaching staff, Pope lost assistant coach Chris Burgess to the University of Utah, Burgess’ alma mater.

Replacing Burgess is former Louisville assistant coach Kahil Fennell. Fennell was key in the recruitment of bringing Waterman to BYU.

Everyone else on Pope’s bench returns in Cody Fueger and Nick Robinson, plus Director of Basketball Operations Bobby Horodyski.

BYU opens the 2022-23 regular season against Idaho State on Monday, November 7, at the Marriott Center.

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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BYU Basketball Practices Tip Off With ‘New And Young’ Challenges