PROVO — After shooting just 29.5 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore, BYU junior guard Zac Seljaas showed up for media day last fall sporting a conspicuous new look.
Seljaas wore a short-cropped hairstyle rather than his signature mohawk. It had something to do with getting married during the offseason.
“I had a change. You get married and then you have to change it up. My wife didn’t like the mohawk look,” Seljaas said. “I changed it up for her.”
But as the season’s gone along, Seljaas has been growing out his hair again.
“Now my wife’s letting me have a little more freedom with it,” Seljaas said with a smile. “I grew up with the buzzcut. I thought I’d go back and to see how it was. I didn’t like it so now I’m growing it back out.”
On the court, meanwhile, Seljaas seems to be playing with more freedom, similar to the way he did three years ago as a sharp-shooting, record-setting freshman.
This season, Seljaas has made 43 of 112 3-pointers (38 percent). In West Coast Conference games, he has connected on 20 of 45 3-pointers — 44 percent.
Seljaas was a starter for the first 15 games of the season before being put in a reserve role once league play began in early January.
Apparently, coming off the bench is a role that suits Seljaas. He ranks fourth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage behind San Francisco’s Frankie Ferrari (42 of 87, 48 percent), BYU’s McKay Cannon (17 of 36, 47 percent) and Pepperdine’s Eric Cooper (36 of 80, 45 percent).
Seljaas has made 10 of his last 19 3-point attempts.
So does his recent 3-point shooting streak have to do with his longer hair? Or the sleeve he’s been wearing on his shooting arm the past couple of weeks?
How does Seljaas explain it?
“At the start of the season, other teams were playing us tight,” he said. “Then you have teammates like Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws, who make a big impact. They start to get double teams and it opens up shots for me and everyone else, like me, McKay (Cannon) and Connor (Harding). It’s good to have that presence.”
In the Cougars’ victory at Loyola Marymount on Feb. 16, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound junior from Bountiful knocked down all four of his 3-point attempts, including a game-clincher with 1:50 remaining.
“There’s not a guy in our program that works harder or puts in more time just working on his shot,” coach Dave Rose said of Seljaas after that contest. “He’s had some big games for us but when you see hard work pay off for a guy … it makes you feel good and makes you believe that’s the way you do it. I’m really happy for him.”
With the regular season coming to a close Saturday at home against San Diego, the WCC Tournament tips off next week in Las Vegas. The Cougars will probably need consistent 3-point shooting from Seljaas if they are going to make some noise in March.
As a freshman in 2015-16, Seljaas made an immediate impact on the program, finishing No. 1 all-time among BYU freshmen in 3-point field goal percentage (68 of 136, 50 percent), second in 3-point field goals and second in 3-point field goals per game. Against Central Michigan that season, Seljaas hit seven 3-pointers.
Seljaas was also a key catalyst in BYU’s run to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals as he hit 9 of 12 3-pointers and scored 38 points over the first three games.
“It was good to have teammates to help me. It’s hard being a freshman,” Seljaas recalled. “Being the only true freshman on that team and the youngest kid, to have teammates that bring you in and help you was really beneficial. My confidence was built that freshman year.”
What most people didn’t realize during that season was that Seljaas suffered a subluxation of his right shoulder after colliding with a player from LMU.
“My shoulder popped out and popped back in the rest of the year,” Seljaas said. “It had a lot of inflammation and it was kind of hurting.”
It was difficult to tell he was dealing with shoulder issues based on the way he finished the season.
Months later, Seljaas left for a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Iowa Des Moines Mission. But the shoulder continued to cause him significant pain.
“It got to the point where I’d wake up and I couldn’t even hold anything. I couldn’t hold a pen,” Seljaas said. “It was numb. It was weird. It got to the point where I need to come home for help.”
For Seljaas, it was a difficult decision to leave his mission after about 10 months of service.
“It was kind of heartbreaking. Being out there, being engaged in that work and connecting with people out there,” he said. “I love the people in Iowa. It stung a little bit to not be out there. It was hard at first but everyone welcomed me back. I was able to fight through the shoulder injury during my freshman season and then it was hurting on my mission. Once I got home, it was hard-core rehab every day. I was going in before practice and after practice. It was making sure I was getting the right treatment. Nothing surgical, it was just trying to strengthen my shoulder and get it back to normal.”
Though Seljaas missed only one season, a lot had changed when he returned from Iowa.
“The transition back to basketball was tough,” Seljaas said about last season. “My weight was a little off and my conditioning was a little off. I was trying to get back to where I was the year before. All my teammates were different. I had to fight through it and learn from it. I was trying to get the strength back in my shoulder. I struggled a little bit but it got better each day.”
In recent weeks, Seljaas has been hitting big 3-pointers like he did when he was a freshman.
Seljaas' love of the game of basketball is almost all relative.
Ask him why he works so hard and he'll talk about his dad, Gary, who played at BYU-Hawaii and coached Zac for years when Zac was a youngster. He'll mention his older sister, Nancy, who played at BYU from 2002-06. His grandfather, Carlos Asay, played for the University of Utah.
“Basketball kind of runs in the family. Now my nieces and nephews are starting to play. It just keeps going. It’s fun to have that in the family," Zac said. "I love the game of basketball, whether it’s watching it or playing it or whatever. It’s fun to be in the gym. When you’re stressed, it’s an outlet. It’s a fun thing to do and I love it.”