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What BYU gained, learned from trip to Italy; injured Zac Seljaas could be ready for season opener

First-year BYU basketball coach Mark Pope likes the cohesiveness of his team.

BYU competes during a recent four-game trip to Italy.
Courtesy BYU Athletics

PROVO — During the BYU basketball team’s recent trip to Italy, the worst thing that happened was senior forward Zac Seljaas breaking his foot.

But Tuesday, as first-year coach Mark Pope answered questions from the media about the four-game exhibition tour, there was good news — he’s optimistic Seljaas will be available to play when the season opens in early November.

Seljaas underwent what Pope described as a “simple surgery” that saw doctors insert a screw into Seljaas’ foot. Seljaas could be out of his cast later this week, according to Pope.

“We’re hoping he’s back for the opener,” Pope said. “He played two great games until he got hurt. He’s going to have a big year for us.”

Overall, Pope learned a lot about his team, which won all four contests in Italy.

“This is the least clique-ish group I’ve ever been associated with in my entire athletic career,” he said. “That was shocking and startling to me, how together this group is. That’s really exciting to me. That’s got to be a strength. We have a decent foundation already.”

As announced in August, senior forward Yoeli Childs will be sidelined for the first nine games of the season by the NCAA. Without Childs, the Cougars will be “missing a huge piece” of his team, Pope said.

“The most important thing for us is to be the best team we can possibly be in March,” Pope added. “Whatever beating we might take early on in the season, having a limited roster with Zac just getting healthy and Yoeli out, is going to pay dividends for us down the stretch because we’re going to have guys that will have experience, gotten minutes and been put in different positions and they’ll be comfortable there.”

The best team BYU played in Italy was Stella Azzura Academy, which defeated Stanford the night before the Cougars earned a 71-62 victory over Stella Azzura.

In between games, BYU visited renowned places like Rome, Florence, Siena and Pompeii.

On the court, Pope was impressed with several players, including forward Kolby Lee, who has been limited due to injuries during his career.

“He had surgery this summer,” Pope said of Lee. “He was a double-double guy on the trip and he played so hard. He’s going to be really functional for us in the post.”

Pope also praised senior Dalton Nixon. “He’s going to come into every game with no agenda other than winning,” Pope said.

In Italy, Childs was able to play, and so were the transfers — guard Alex Barcello and forwards Richard Harward and Wyatt Lowell.

Pope liked what he saw from Barcello.

“He gives us something in the backcourt that we don’t have in terms of his physicality,” Pope said. “He’s going to be really good.”

Barcello, who transferred from Arizona, is seeking a waiver from the NCAA to play this season.

“I’d love to get all these (transfers) eligible,” Pope said. “If we had all these guys eligible, we’re good and deep. If we don’t have them, we’re good but we’re not deep.”

The Cougars officially open practice Sept. 24.

“We threw a ton of stuff at our guys schematically and offensively,” Pope said about the practices that were held prior to traveling to Italy. “We probably put more in in two weeks offensively than I put in the first three months of the season normally to see what guys liked and what came naturally to them and what we need to work on.”

While Pope learned a lot about his team in Italy, there’s still plenty he wants to know.

“We have a crew of guys that will play really hard. I’m excited about that,” he said. “The question I have about this team is, how tough and resilient are we going to be? How much grit will we have?”

Pope said the complete nonconference schedule will be released this week.