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BRADLEY, INTRIGUE TO RETURN FOR COUGARS

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Expectations for the next BYU basketball season will be high - about 7-foot-6 high.

The return of center Shawn Bradley from a mission has everyone predicting that the Cougars will be vastly improved. CBS' Mike Francesa has already suggested that BYU will be Top 5 material.Don't bet the house on it.

A couple of seasons ago, with Bradley on the team, BYU lost more games than any other Cougar team under coach Roger Reid. Thirteen games into that season, BYU was 6-7. Part of the problem is that it took about half a season for Bradley's teammates to adjust to having a 7-6 guy in the middle. The guards had to learn how to get him the ball, and the other big men had to learn where they fit in a lane that had suddenly become crowded.

The same thing probably will happen next season. During the preseason, BYU will sometimes look very good, other times look less than smooth. Reid should have them playing well by the time the WAC season rolls around in January, and they'll probably win 20-plus games again and get another NCAA Tournament berth.

"I really expect this to be a rebuilding year," Reid said. "It's going to take time for these guys to get into the swing of things."

If, as has been rumored, Bradley opts to enter this year's NBA draft, then you can throw all of the above out the window and start analyzing all over. But that rumor seems likely to remain just a rumor, as Bradley plays at least one year in Provo before becoming a millionaire.

However, Bradley's father, Reiner, said Friday night, "He's definitely going to the Y. one year and then he'll take it year to year after that."

And speaking of rumors, they have abounded recently regarding the Cougars. One story has Russell Larson going to Kansas, another has Ryan Cuff going to Arizona, another has Shane Knight headed to anywhere that isn't Provo.

Reid, who spent the past week interviewing each of his returning players, says the rumors are highly exaggerated. "Nobody's going anywhere," he said. "I've been at BYU 15 years and this is no different than any other year."

Reid added, however, that players are free to go wheresoever they will. "If a guy's unhappy and feels he can do better somewhere else, he has my blessing," he said.

Provided no one departs unexpectedly, BYU's roster for next season will include 13 players, excluding walk-ons. Here's how things shape up, by position:

- Center. Gary Trost is gone, along with back-up Dave Astle, but Bradley should replace Trost on the All-WAC first team. Larson should be happier seeing time as Bradley's backup and at forward, and 6-8 John Fish might also play some in the pivot.

- Forward. Departed: Jared Miller, Kevin Nixon. Returning: Larson, Mark Durrant, Shane Knight, Fish. Returned missionaries: Kenneth Roberts, Jeff Campbell, 6-7 Grant Berges. Freshman: 6-10 Les Jepson. This should get very competitive, especially since none of these guys was an all-around-type player. Larson is a scorer but no animal on the boards. Durrant is a defensive specialist. Knight has potential to be a scorer but still needs to bulk-up. Fish is a banger. Roberts started every game as a freshman, but his numbers - 6.2 points and 4.4 boards a game - weren't spectacular. Campbell played sparingly as a freshman. Berges hasn't played since high school; he and Jepson are possible redshirts.

- Guard. Nick Sanderson is gone, which could be good or bad - much like Sanderson. Randy Reid, Ryan Cuff and Kurt Christensen return, and chances are that BYU's one available scholarship will go to coach Reid's other son, Robbie, a prep standout at Spanish Fork High. There are a couple of walk-on possibilities, but no one that will get significant minutes. The big question here is who replaces Sanderson as the starter. Reid says that starting doesn't mean anything, but most players seem to think otherwise. Christensen outplayed Cuff last season, but Cuff has a lot of potential.