MT. PLEASANT, Sanpete County — As a kid, Richie Saunders attended BYU basketball games, sitting in the upper bleachers of the Marriott Center, watching superstar Jimmer Fredette knock down shots all over the court.
Back then, Saunders imagined himself playing for the Cougars.
Turns out, Saunders, now a 6-foot-5 shooting guard at Wasatch Academy, will be suiting up for BYU in a few years.
Wednesday night at Wasatch Academy, Saunders, surrounded by his teammates, coaches and family, announced that he will be signing with BYU in November. He selected the Cougars over Utah State and Creighton.
Richie Saunders’ announcement. pic.twitter.com/AcmbpBiLTQ— Jeff Call (@AJeffreyCall) October 31, 2019
While he admires longtime BYU coach Dave Rose, who retired last spring, he has built a strong connection with first-year Cougar coach Mark Pope.
“I believe in their program and I believe in coach Pope,” Saunders said. “They’ve been so good to me. I envisioned myself there. Same with all three, but at BYU, I can see myself playing there and it feels so good. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Richie Saunders of Wasatch Academy has picked BYU. pic.twitter.com/5wybrm4qWX— Jeff Call (@AJeffreyCall) October 31, 2019
Certainly, Pope has made an impression on Saunders.
“He’s so personable and so enthusiastic and passionate about what he does,” Saunders said. “I wanted to play for him. I love the energy. I wanted to be a part of it.”
While he grew up dreaming of playing for BYU, “it’s not like I had in my mind set on BYU,” Saunders, a transfer from Riverton, said of the recruiting process. “I could envision myself at each of those schools. I’m super excited to say I’m playing for BYU.”
Saunders is the fifth of Wasatch Academy’s five senior starters to commit before signing day, along with Mady Sissoko (Michigan State), Caleb Lohner (Utah), Mike Saunders (Cincinnati) and Leonardo Colimerio (Fresno State).
“I think it’s a really good fit. All three of them were good fits for Richie,” said Wasatch Academy coach Dave Evans. “Those are high-character, high-quality staffs and programs. It was a hard decision for him. At the end of the day, that’s the one that felt right to him. I’m very supportive of him. The neat thing about Wasatch is because of our strength of schedule, it prepares our players for that level. Richie will be ready to go when he returns from his mission.”
Rich Saunders, Richie’s dad, said his son is eager to make an impact at BYU.
“Coach Rose built a foundation. Pope’s going to build on it. Richie’s a builder,” Rich Saunders said. “He wants to build. He’ll join in coach Pope’s efforts and they’ll do wonderful things together with other great players as well.”
Saunders’ parents are happy that he will play his college ball close to home, though they expressed their appreciation for the coaching staffs at Utah State and Creighton. Rich Saunders said he would have flown to games at Creighton — in Omaha, Nebraska — had his son picked that school.
“We’re thrilled (about Richie choosing BYU),” Rich Saunders said. “His mom cried her eyes out she was so excited.”