PROVO — Sporting a BYU honor code-approved mustache and a boy-band hairdo, senior forward Zac Seljaas played in the Cougars’ season-opening 76-58 victory over Cal State Fullerton Tuesday night at the Marriott Center.
Seljaas broke his foot during one of the exhibition games on BYU’s tour of Italy in August. When it happened, he was sent home so he could undergo surgery for a Jones fracture. Doctors inserted a screw in his foot and put him in a bright pink cast.
Since that time, first-year coach Mark Pope had been optimistic and hopeful that Seljaas would be available for the first game of the season.
“We rushed Zac back from Italy five days early because the timing was so tight in terms of the estimate of when he’d be fully recovered to get to game 1,” Pope said in September.
Seljaas worked tirelessly to get himself healthy and ready to play and he was cleared last week.
In the opener, he came off the bench and played 17 minutes, pulled down a team-high eight rebounds (Connor Harding also had eight boards), dished out two assists and scored six points. He was only 1 of 5 from the field, but the one field goal he made was a 3-pointer.
“We had some guys step up in a really special way. This Zac Seljaas, how fun is it to have him back?” Pope said after the game. “He was awesome. He’s so hungry. At one point, he looked a little crazy-eyed. It was great. He was terrific.”
“I think it was awesome. I know how hard Zac has worked every single day. Even when he was hurt, nothing stopped him from working every single day,” guard Alex Barcello said of Seljaas. “I was so happy for him just knowing that all the hard work that he’s put in and everyone believed in him and was hoping that he would have a great game and knows how well he can play. We were all happy for him.”
Seljaas wasn’t the only reserve to make big contributions Tuesday.
Harding played 25 minutes, made 4 of 6 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range, and finished with 11 points and three assists in addition to his eight rebounds.
With Yoeli Childs sidelined for the first nine games of the season, the Cougars are counting on Harding to be a rebounder. He also had eight rebounds in last Friday’s exhibition win.
“I’ve been on hard on Connor Harding a little bit. Through the Italy trip and then the first month of training camp, just talking to him every day all summer about gaining weight, about how he needed to approach this season to be really effective for us,” Pope said. “This kid goes and gets eight more rebounds. That’s back-to-back games … with eight rebounds. That’s so huge. We so desperately that physical effort for him. And then he’s owning every shot. Every shot he’s completely committed to.”
Added Pope, “Connor was great tonight. Wait until he puts on 15 more pounds next year. He’s going to be a massive problem to be reckoned with. We need him this year to play that role and he’s done a great job so far.”
NOTES: On Wednesday, Childs was named to the Preseason Top 50 Watch for the John R. Wooden Award. Childs was also named to the preseason watch list for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award and a preseason All-WCC honoree. A three-year starter, he is BYU’s leading returning scorer and rebounder. The senior from South Jordan, averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds while posting 17 double-doubles in 2018-19. Childs was named to the All-WCC First Team and the NABC and USBWA all-district first teams.