In BYU’s exhibition game last Thursday, senior center Richard Harward suffered an injury early on and had to leave the game.

In Tuesday’s season-opening 69-59 victory over Cleveland State, Harward was in street clothes and watched the game from the bench.

Coach Mark Pope said the 6-foot-11, 256-pounder from Orem could be sidelined for an indefinite period of time due to a cardiovascular issue.

Doctors are monitoring Harward closely. 

“It’s super tough for us. It’s a huge blow to our team. Rich has a cardiovascular issue right now that he’s going to be out for at least a little while,” Pope said. “It’s kind of going to be like every week seeing how he does. Super devastating for him.

“He’s in the best shape of his life, he’s playing the best basketball of his life. He is the emotional leader of this entire team over the last two years. His emotional leadership is even a bigger loss than his body on the floor. We miss him. We’re hoping he gets back as soon as possible. But we just don’t know. It could be days, weeks or months. We’re just not sure.”

Could this be a season-ending situation?

“I hope not. The doctors haven’t given us any definitive end date,” Pope said. “We’re super hopeful that it will be soon but we just don’t know.”

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Before the season, Harward addressed how much he loves his role on this team. He was looking forward to taking over the spot vacated by the 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms, who graduated.

“Pope talked to me about being the only returning big that’s completely healthy and has had some experience,” he said. “I’m trying to get my body into the shape where I’m able to contribute more and play more minutes. But as the season goes on, I see a nice rotation with me and Gavin (Baxter). Fouss (Traore) has come along amazingly. I’ve never seen a freshman like Fouss. He’s going to be an all-star for BYU. That’s all I’m going to say.”

During the offseason, Harward changed his body in preparation for this year and he’s 20 pounds lighter than he was last season. 

“A big part of it was losing weight. Getting my body into a different type of shape. Last year, we had a lot of big men. I could focus on explosive minutes,” Harward said. “Pope wanted me to get different conditioning so I could play more minutes. At one point, I lost 30 pounds. That was way too much. I gained a few of them back, trying to get my body in the best shape that I can for offensive post efficiency.”

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Taking Harward’s place in the starting lineup Tuesday was 6-9 senior Gavin Baxter, who made his first career start.

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Baxter missed most of the previous two seasons due to injuries. He underwent shoulder surgery prior to the 2019-20 season and came back to play in the final seven games. Last year, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the year. 

This season, Baxter is playing under a minutes restriction. He scored two points and blocked a shot in 16 minutes of action Tuesday.

“I’m trying to keep him in there for three minutes-ish and no longer. I’m super pleased with his 16 minutes,” Pope said. “I thought he played great. We need him so much. He’s such a steadying force on his team.

“We have to make sure that he’s not on the court when he’s overly fatigued; I’ve got to keep him healthy. His minutes will grow. I thought he was incredible tonight and hopefully he’ll get a couple of more minutes in the next game.”

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