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BYU basketball coach Mark Pope holding 2-a-day practices; Haws out after undergoing minor knee surgery

The Cougars held their first two practices in preparation for the 2019-2020 season with two-a-day practices — an early-morning session and an afternoon session. 

Gavin Baxter (25) passes around Kolby Lee (40) as BYU opens the season with its first practices with new head coach Mark Pope and staff at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.
Gavin Baxter (25) passes around Kolby Lee (40) as BYU opens the season with its first practices with new head coach Mark Pope and staff at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Since he was hired last April, BYU basketball coach Mark Pope has been busy traveling, recruiting and setting his roster in order, among other things.

On Tuesday, he was able to get immersed in what he enjoys most about his job: coaching.

”It’s so therapeutic to come in the gym. This is what we do all this for, to have a chance to come in here and grow as a team,” Pope said. “It is magical to be on the court. It’s a great place to be. It was a fun day.”

The Cougars held their first two practices in preparation for the 2019-2020 season with a two-a-day — an early-morning session and an afternoon session. BYU is expected to hold two-a-day practices for at least the next two weeks.

“When their alarm goes off at 5:15 tomorrow morning and they realize they’re coming to the first of two more practices, it’s a little bit sobering,” Pope said. “The more you invest as a player, the harder it is to settle for anything less than great. Hopefully that will be the same with this team.”

One player that didn’t participate in practices Tuesday was senior guard TJ Haws, who underwent minor knee surgery a couple of weeks ago and is scheduled to return in about 10 days.

With Haws out, Connor Harding and Blaze Nield have had the chance to get playing time at point guard, Pope said.

Meanwhile, senior Zac Seljaas, who underwent foot surgery last month and was at practice with a brace on his right foot and riding a knee scooter, has worked hard to get into the best shape possible. Pope remains optimistic that Seljaas will be available to play when BYU tips off the regular season Nov. 5 at home against Cal State Fullerton.

“We’re really hopeful. We’ll see how it goes,” Pope said. “But he’s doing everything humanly possible to get back.”

As for the first two practices Tuesday, they were spirited.

“Everyone was really excited today. There was a lot of energy,” said senior forward Dalton Nixon. “As coach like to say, ‘A lot of juice in the gym.’ That’s something we’ve been looking forward to coming into our first day of practice, to have the energy on both sides of the floor. It’s an opportunity to really put together what we want to accomplish this year and it started today.”

The Cougars picked up where they left off in August, when they spent a couple of weeks practicing and playing exhibition games in Italy.

“The first of practice before Italy we were going hard. It was really intense,” said sophomore forward Gavin Baxter. “Today, it was same feeling, same energy in the gym. It was great. It felt good.”

In August, it was announced that star forward Yoeli Childs will miss the first nine games of the season due to an NCAA suspension.

“We have a lot to figure out right now,” Pope said. “With Yoeli missing the first nine games, we’re just dealing with an interesting roster feel. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to play.”

Childs’ first game will be against Utah on Dec. 4.

Other opponents on the Cougars’ nonconference schedule include San Diego State, Southern Utah, Houston, Boise State, UCLA, UNLV, Nevada, Utah State and Weber State.

“(Former BYU) coach (Dave) Rose left us a great schedule. We had to fill in some pieces,” Pope said. “It’s a hard schedule. It’s what we live for, right? We’re going to face some really tough competition without our full roster. It’s going to challenge us and test us.”

“We’re really excited to have these games,” Nixon said. “We have really good opportunities to prove ourselves early in the season and build on it a day at a time.”

BYU will hold Midnight Madness on Oct. 23 and then host UT Tyler for an exhibition game on Nov. 1.

Certainly, Pope and his players are happy to be practicing again.

“Right now, what’s fun is being on the court with these guys. I spent the last two weeks traveling,” Pope said. “For me personally, it’s so fun to be in the gym. These guys are such good young men and they enjoy this game so much. We’re finishing two-a-days, trying to shut down practice and they’re yelling at me because they want to go another couple of reps. That’s pretty great.”