From the time I first set foot on the BYU campus in the fall of 1958, there has been a parade of outstanding basketball players who transferred to BYU and then had a significant impact on the program.
Because of the number of BYU basketball players who have recently left the team to play at other schools or to play professionally, there appears to be an extraordinary amount of angst about the direction of the program.
Revered former BYU football coach LaVell Edwards used to respond to questions about the players BYU didn't get during a recruiting period by saying that he would concentrate on the ones coming into the program, not the ones who weren't there.
Two recent examples of how half-empty glass analysis can negatively color the perception of the basketball program were the BYU careers of Matt Carlino and Elijah Bryant, who each left the team with a year of eligibility left. Each had contributed a great deal to the program's success and both had transferred to BYU from other schools — Carlino from UCLA and Bryant from Elon College.
Each paid his dues at BYU and the program was — in both cases — better for it. Between the two of them, they contributed significantly to five successful seasons and left behind indelible memories. Interestingly enough, two of their best performances came against the University of Portland, where each went off on scoring binges of 30 points or more.
When I arrived at BYU as a freshman, the basketball program had already benefited from the presence of Eastern Arizona transfer John Nicoll. He teamed with Mesa, Arizona sophomore standout Bob Skousen for an outstanding front line in the 1958-59 season. That team defeated No. 3-ranked Kansas State at a rocking Smith Fieldhouse on a mid-December night.
During two great recruiting seasons in the mid-1960s, not only did Coach Stan Watts and staff get a boatload of outstanding freshman, but they also recruited two talented transfers from Palomar College in Southern California, John Fairchild and Jon Stanley.
Fairchild, a 6-foot-8 center with a smooth shooting touch teamed with talented gunner Dick Nemelka, Stanley, and the stellar group of recruits to win the Western Athletic Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament in 1965.
It wasn't long after that another transfer had a great impact. Bernie Fryer came to BYU from Peninsula College in Washington. His two-year experience at BYU was amazing, as he teamed with beloved international superstar Kresimir Cosic for conference titles and NCAA berths in 1971 and 1972. Fryer had a short NBA playing career and a long tenure as an NBA referee.
One of the first black players at BYU was Keith Rice, who came to BYU from Mount Hood Community College in Oregon, early in the tenure of head coach Frank Arnold. Rice helped lay the foundation for a resurgence in Cougar success during the Danny Ainge/Fred Roberts/Devin Durrant era.
Who can forget the heart-stopping, last-second game-winning shots by Kevin Nixon to defeat UTEP in the WAC Championship game in 1992, and then less than a year later to defeat Oklahoma in the Maui Invitational in Hawaii? Nixon played at Utah Valley Community College before his BYU stint and is the proud father of current Cougar cager Dalton Nixon.
The 2001 WAC regular-season championship BYU team also won the conference tournament. The team was led by star center Mekeli Wesley and two major contributors who came as transfers. Terrell Lyday was a hot-shooting guard from Fresno Community College and Trent Whiting played one year for the Cougars as an effective and exciting point guard after transferring from the University of Utah.
Travis Hansen, Rafael Araujo, Mike Hall, and Keena Young were all impact players in the 2002-2007 era and all came as transfers. Loyal BYU fans remember Hansen's scoring bursts, Araujo's sharp elbows, Hall's scintillating slam dunk over the Air Force center as the Marriott Center crowd exploded, and Young's smooth jump shot.
BYU competed in the Mountain West Conference for only 12 years and won or shared the regular season conference title in six of those years. Some BYU supporters only concentrate on the fact that the Cougars won only one conference tournament during that period and none since then.
The fact that the Cougars earned NCAA berths in eight of those MWC years and were significantly aided by transfers to the program, undercuts the "woe is me" attitude by some fair-weather fans.
The recent contributions by transfers Carlino, Bryant, Chase Fischer, Kyle Davis, and current players Jahshire Hardnett and McKay Cannon indicate that the program is alive and well, and continuing success is in sight.
We are dealing with what we've got ... and what we have looks doggone good.