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BYU's Mika provides Rose with a long, tall list of lineup options

Brigham Young Cougars forward Eric Mika (12) goes up for a shot as BYU and BYU-Hawaii play in preseason action at the Marriott Center in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Eric Mika (12) goes up for a shot as BYU and BYU-Hawaii play in preseason action at the Marriott Center in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

Dave Rose has so many options he’s gotta relate to those hedge fund managers.

He can look at the bench and say, “eeny meeny, miny, mo…”

He’s got chess pieces crowding his board. Choices, combos, depth. Oh, the decisions he gets to make.

Eric Mika makes it so.

Now, of course, it remains to be seen if this team can challenge Gonzaga for the WCC title and make the NCAA tournament. But it’s not too early for BYU fans to get a little giddy.

The big, athletic, quick former Lone Peak star Mika is a machine. His engine runs hot and if the season-opening win against Princeton is any indication of his ability to avoid foul trouble, kill it at the line and lead fast breaks while scoring in the paint, well, this is a whole new Cougar world.

For the first time since the days of Brandon Davies and Trent Plaisted, Rose has legitimate, consistent post presence. It’s a luxury that allows him to play high percentage basketball, tools that allow defensive options.

It's a feature that’s made his program more complete. The days of relying on long-range archers and playing four guards against 7-foot centers and 6-foot-9 power forwards are of the past.

Rose still has the archers. But now he’s got beasts to unleash inside.

In Mika, Rose has a guy who left the game for two years but just had career highs in scoring (26) and rebounds (18) in his first game back from LDS Church mission service in Rome. Mika was tough before he left, but he's better now that he’s back, especially at the line. It also appears he’s making better decisions with his fouls.

The Cougars have a gladiator in Mika to anchor the middle. Mika is a special talent and he has teammate post players that score, rebound, block shots and have fouls to give.

Rose praised Mika after the season opener for his aggression. He saw it in the way he attacked, drew fouls, rebounded and ran the floor. “I like the way we got to the line,” said Rose. “That’s a sign of being aggressive.” Then Mika made about a dozen free throws.

But even more impressive, Mika had nine offensive rebounds.

Combine 6-foot-10 Mika with the return of 6-foot-8 senior Kyle Davis and the arrival of ESPN Top 100 recruit, freshman Yoeli Childs, who's 6-foot-8, and there are choices. Give 6-foot-6 Jamaal Aytes, 6-foot-9 Braiden Shaw and 6-foot-10 Payton Dastrup roles as needed and Rose has some beef to move around.

Then there is the return of current football defensive end and former starting center Corbin Kaufusi (6-foot-10) to the Cougar roster. He’ll be good to go after the Poinsettia Bowl. He will add even more choices for Rose. This group will bring some added muscle, athleticism and about a zillion fouls to give.

Why is this post presence such a big deal for Rose?

Because he’s had to play a little game of smoke and mirrors the past few seasons. He’s had to play with a guard-laden team. He’s had to rely on a huge volume of three-point field goals. Sometimes it worked and other times it didn’t. He didn’t have a post threat consistent enough to draw defenders and change the scope of the game on both ends.

For many a season, BYU’s tried to play defense up front while hoping somebody could protect the rim behind them. A year ago when Kaufusi played, or even when Davies was in the lineup back in the Jimmer Fredette days, a couple of quick fouls sent those rim defenders to the bench and it spelled trouble inside the paint.

This season, with Mika and crew, that will change. How good it gets remains something to measure in coming weeks. But bodies are there.

Offensively, anybody who has watched TJ Haws and Nick Emery knows how deadly they can be from beyond the arc. But with a threat like Mika inside, it changes how defenses will attack them.

“It gives us balance,” said Rose on Monday.

It seems like half a decade since Rose has relied almost completely on the outside bombs of Chase Fischer, Matt Carlino, Fredette, Skyler Halford and Tyler Haws. Rose leaned hard on that part of the game.

He got what he could out of Kaufusi, Davis and Nate Austin, but it was the archers who carried the load. The most productive post threat BYU’s had recently was 6-foot-6 point guard Kyle Collinsworth.

Think about it.

In days to come, this post-play attack led by Mika will be interesting to follow. It’s given Rose’s squad a much different look.

The next glimpse of this Cougar development is Thursday against Coppin State, in one of those preseason home game where Rose can experiment with lineups.

How good will the Cougars be? We shall see.


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