PROVO — There was Georgetown’s Mac McClung, East Tennessee State’s Daivien Williamson and Utah’s Both Gach, among others, that BYU basketball coach Mark Pope and his staff pursued in the transfer portal.

But those players ultimately chose other destinations — Texas Tech, Wake Forest and Minnesota, respectively. 

The way former Cougar guard Jake Toolson sees it, while BYU may have missed out on those talents, it landed the perfect player to help complete the roster for next season. And that player was just up the road from Provo at Utah Valley University — Brandon Averette, a 5-foot-11 point guard.

Averette is the latest grad transfer to join the Cougars, along with 7-foot-3 Purdue transfer Matt Haarms, who signed with BYU in April. 

“Once (Averette) became available and we got him, I thought that he was the best player we could have gotten that fills every need that we had left,” Toolson said. “All these other guys that we were going after from big-time schools, they only knew coach Pope for a week. They had never played for him, and they didn’t know what to expect. The reason he is going to be the best dude that we could have gotten in the portal is that he’s already played for Pope at UVU, and he already knows what he expects. He knows the system. Then there’s that relationship and the confidence — that’s going to be huge for him.”

Toolson loves the way Averette plays and how he complements senior guard Alex Barcello.

“He’s got all of the talent and skill and work ethic. It’s all about opportunity and the guys that are around you and the culture,” he said. “BYU checks all the boxes for him to have a huge season. We got Haarms and we have younger guys coming back. But we needed a play-maker, a ball-handler, a shot-creator to be able to balance out the backcourt with (Barcello). He’s another player that can get buckets. He does it all.”

In a way, Averette is following a similar path as Toolson, who joined BYU from UVU as a grad transfer a year ago. 

“It definitely is similar. He had a number of options. It wasn’t like BYU was the only place he could have gone. He knew that he has one more year left and he wants to win, first of all, and he wants to put himself in a good position for the future. He knows that coach Pope can help him get there,” Toolson said. “I think he was in the portal for less than a week. He knew what coach Pope was about and he had relationships with coach Pope and (assistant coach (Cody) Fueger. There really wasn’t much conversation that needed to be had. I don’t think he considered anywhere other than BYU. He wanted to be here, and he wanted to play here. That’s a huge advantage for him.”

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Averette brings a lot of strengths and positive qualities to the Cougar basketball program, Toolson said. 

“He’s a great teammate. He’s a proven winner and he competes. He’s a quiet killer. He doesn’t say much. He’s not very loud or emotional but he’s a killer. He’s somebody that competes every single possession. He doesn’t take plays off. He’ll bring toughness and he can score and make plays for teammates. He makes the right play. He does it all. I don’t see any weaknesses in his game.”

Though they were both at UVU at the same time, Toolson and Averette never played together because the year Averette was redshirting, after his transfer from Oklahoma State, was Toolson’s final year with the Wolverines. Averette was on the scout team in practices. 

“Every day, we were going up against him and the rest of the guys on the scout team. Most days, they were beating us,” Toolson said. “I thought I was going to be staying at UVU and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t wait to play my senior year with this dude.’ But obviously, things didn’t go that way, but I was so excited to have a chance to play with him because every day, he was the hardest worker on our team and the best player, I would say, by far.”

With all of the additions to the roster, Toolson said the 2020-21 Cougars will be fun to watch and difficult to guard. 

“They have a lot of depth and a ton of size, which is great. They’re not one-dimensional. They’re going to be hard to prepare for because they have so many ways that they can beat you,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to see how it develops and the style that they play. Coach Pope has his system and his principles that he teaches. But when you have such a unique personnel group, you have to play to their strengths. There will be a lot of similarities to this year’s team but when you have a guy like Haarms and Gavin Baxter and Alex and Brandon and Wyatt (Lowell), we have so many guys that may not have the experience that we had last year, but they have so much potential. And that’s exciting.”

Toolson said he’s excited to see how this team plays together, especially with “less time because of the coronavirus.”

“I think coach Pope is the perfect dude to be in charge. In another situation, this would be a really hard thing to do,” Toolson said. “But I think that’s where coach Pope thrives — helping guys come together and play together.”

For Toolson, it’s not surprising that BYU’s coaching staff has attracted talented transfers. 

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“First of all, they work harder than anybody in the country. I don’t even have to know what all the other coaches are doing out there to know that they’re putting in the work. They’re all about relationships, and they get to know the guys and they care about them beyond the court. They have a track record,” he said. “They’re not just trying to convince a kid to take a chance. They’ve had transfer after transfer after transfer come to their program, whether it was at BYU or UVU, and in every single case that transfer under this staff has exceeded expectations and has done better than they did at the previous spot. It’s the track record that they have of helping transfers grow their game and get the things that they want. If guys want to win, they want to play for Pope. Everywhere they’ve gone, they’ve won.” 

What are Toolson’s expectations of the team this upcoming season?

“On paper, we have all the tools and all the guys to make a run. Coach Pope and the staff and the players want to win. They’re committed to winning, so I wouldn’t expect anything less. People want to hear, ‘Go on a run in the tournament and go to the Sweet 16.’ But that’s not what players think about because we’re trying to get better that day, every day.

“The thing I’m most excited about is supporting and helping anyway that I can. Being attached to BYU and cheering for their success and wanting them to be great is special to a lot of people,” Toolson added. “I’m excited to sit back and enjoy the ride. I know that the program is in great hands. We did amazing things in our first year and some people say we set the bar too high in coach Pope’s first year. But I know that he wants more and will go for it all. I’m excited to see it all play out.”

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