‘Greatest Way To Play Basketball:’ Former BYU Star Jake Toolson Impressed With 2024 Squad

Mar 11, 2024, 9:04 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Four years ago, Mark Pope’s first BYU basketball team had its season brought to an abrupt close.

Everyone in college basketball four March’s ago had their season come to a sad and immediate ending.

Instead of filling out brackets and watching Cinderellas take over the country with a magical run, we were left with a global pandemic.

Jake Toolson was part of the BYU team that emerged as the nation’s top three-point shooting team in 2020. It was a group that left many wondering what could have been.

Catching up with former BYU basketball star Jake Toolson

Even college basketball insider Jon Rothstein says BYU’s 2020 squad was talented enough to make a run to the Final Four.

Toolson and his 2020 teammates never saw how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament.

After BYU, Toolson had a stint with the Utah Jazz in the NBA and spent some time in Germany.

Now residing in Vineyard, Utah, Toolson gets to watch his alma mater in action as they gear up for the Big 12 Tournament this week and then the NCAA Tournament later this month.

“It’s fun to look back and see the run we went on and the season we had,” Toolson said to KSL Sports. “But now it’s up to the future teams to live vicariously through and see what their NCAA Tournament experience can be like.”

This year’s 2024 BYU team, similar to Toolson’s group in 2020, caught people by surprise.

In Mark Pope’s first year, he took over a program coming off a season where they didn’t make the postseason in Dave Rose’s final year as the head coach.

Everyone had low expectations entering the season. But by the end of the year, BYU was the nation’s number one three-point shooting team and had secured a win over No. 2 Gonzaga.

This year’s BYU team had even lower expectations. BYU was picked 13th in the Big 12 Conference.

Toolson loves how BYU basketball runs their offense in 2024

However, like Toolson’s team in 2020, they utilize the three-point shot. It’s a different offense than the one four years ago, and Toolson can’t help but be envious when he watches this BYU team play.

“I can’t lie. I sit here and watch this year’s team and see how well they play together. I wish we could have run some more of that action,” Toolson said. “Those zooms, the away screens, pin downs, the dribble handoffs with Aly (Khalifa) and finding all the late cutters and wide-open threes. In my opinion, that’s the greatest way to play basketball.”

Toolson noted that the personnel is the big difference in why his BYU team didn’t run those similar sets.

They had Yoeli Childs in the post, who was a nightly 20-and-10-performer. Plus, they had TJ Haws on the wing and his guard line running mate, Alex Barcello.

Toolson credits the coaching staff, who he played for at both Utah Valley and BYU.

“I think Coach Pope does a really good job. Coach Fueger deserves a ton of credit, too, for understanding what personnel they have and how they can put those guys in position to succeed.”

Credit to the locker room

When Toolson picked BYU over interest from Virginia and Duke as a graduate transfer from UVU, one of the big reasons was the culture Mark Pope builds with his teams.

Toolson sees the “Best Locker Room in America” attitude showing up again for BYU.

“Coach Pope emphasizes that locker room. The guys [this year] have bought in. What were the expectations going into the year?

“I think it was, ‘OK, it’s the Big 12, it’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period, maybe some growing pains,’ but they never bought into any of that. They were like, ‘There are no expectations. Let’s go out there and blaze our own trail and see what we’re made of. ‘So it’s a different dynamic in the Big 12.”

“Figured it out every step of the way”

For Toolson’s team at BYU, a loss in the WCC could have drastically altered their resume. This year’s group losses can be chalked up as learning opportunities.

“The game [against Iowa State], it wasn’t a must-win, or our resume is ruined. Instead, it’s, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity to learn about ourselves going into March.’ So it’s a completely different game they’re playing in the Big 12. And they’ve figured it out every step of the way.”

BYU will play its first Big 12 Tournament game on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. (MT) against Oklahoma State or UCF on ESPN2 and KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM).

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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‘Greatest Way To Play Basketball:’ Former BYU Star Jake Toolson Impressed With 2024 Squad