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BYU basketball’s untold connections and history with the Big 12, its coaches

The Deseret News talked to Big 12 coaches about their ties to BYU and how they think the Cougars will fare in the league.

FILE — Baylor’s Head Coach Scott Drew yells out at his players as BYU and Baylor play Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011 in the Marriott Center in Provo. Baylor won 86-83. The Bears and Cougars will soon be conference opponents, once BYU joins the Big 12 Conference.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

KANSAS CITY — Baylor coach Scott Drew smiles broadly when he remembers a trip to the Marriott Center to face BYU a decade ago, in December 2011.

The Cougars coaching staff, led by then-coach Dave Rose, presented Drew’s wife, Kelly, and the wives of the rest of the coaching staff, with presents about a week before Christmas.

“They gave our wives a gift, which our wives had never gotten. So they love BYU for that,” Drew recalled during Big 12 media day last month. “Everyone was so nice and it was a great atmosphere and a great game that came down to the last minute. We were blessed to pull it out.”

That’s the other reason why he enjoyed his trip to Provo — his Bears edged the Cougars 86-83.

Because BYU leaves the West Coast Conference to join the Big 12 Conference in 2023, there will be more Marriott Center stays for Drew and Baylor in the future.

Drew, who led the Bears to the 2021 national championship, is eager to welcome the Cougars, Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston to the Big 12.

Does he have any counsel for BYU coach Mark Pope about life in the Big 12?

“I would want to give him good advice but he’s prepared from the standpoint that they’ve got a great home crowd. He’s used to playing in great environments,” Drew said. “I know BYU and Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are the three best in that conference. The Big 12 is probably like playing Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga every night. The balance in this league, there’s no easy game or off night. That’s probably why since 2014, the Big 12 has been the best conference. BYU is a great addition. When we played at BYU, they treated us tremendously. They were very kind. I’m excited about BYU being in the conference.”

There are plenty of other connections and history between BYU basketball and coaches in the Big 12. The Deseret News talked to Big 12 coaches about their perspective on the Cougars entering the league.

KANSAS STATE

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber coached Southern Illinois in an NIT game against BYU at the Marriott Center in 2000.

“Unbelievable environment. I was at Southern Illinois, we were in the NIT, and we played a late-night game on a Monday night,” Weber recalled. “Just a great atmosphere. It was family night so we couldn’t play until 9 p.m.. It was 11 o’clock our time. They punked us. I remember how physical they were. Obviously, we ended up losing that game but they’ve been very, very successful. Basketball, football, top 20.”

Weber said he’s acquainted with Pope.

“We were together two years ago in Canada recruiting,” he said. “We sat and talked quite a bit. We had good conversations. He’s done a nice job and I know Dave Rose pretty well.”

WEST VIRGINIA

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has faced BYU once, when he was the coach at Cincinnati. The Bearcats beat the Cougars in the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

Huggins hasn’t been to Provo before but he said he looks forward to it.

“That place will fit right in,” he said. “The atmospheres in this league are incredible.”

As the only current Big 12 team located near the East Coast, Huggins said travel can be difficult in the league.

“(BYU) won’t like coming to Morgantown. That’s a long way. It’s hard. I’ve been in a bunch of leagues. This one is brutal. For BYU, they’re going to have the same problem we’ve got,” Huggins said. “The travel is absolutely brutal. We’ll get back at 5:30 in the morning and you have to tell them to get to class. You can’t practice the next day because they’re beat.”

Huggins likes that Cincinnati and Central Florida are closer to Morgantown, which will ease travel times when West Virginia plays at those teams.

Huggins added that the coaches, and players, in the Big 12 are tough to beat.

“The coaching is incredible. You sit and you watch these guys’ teams and they’re very fundamentally sound. They run really good stuff and they have really good players,” he said. “Google the draft picks in the Big 12 and compare them to the ACC and SEC and it’s unbelievable to have the smallest number of schools and yet as high a number of draft picks and No. 1 picks, first-round picks as any of those other leagues.”

TCU

Before TCU joined the Big 12 about 10 years ago, the Horned Frogs were members of the Mountain West Conference with BYU.

Current TCU coach Jamie Dixon is familiar with BYU because he was an assistant coach at Hawaii when the Cougars and the Warriors were members of the Western Athletic Conference in the early 1990s.

In 1994, with Dixon on the staff, Hawaii upset BYU for its first-ever WAC Tournament title and went to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history.

“We had a nice rivalry with BYU football and basketball games. As far as adding the four teams, BYU included in those four teams, we’ve certainly got four great programs, both football and basketball,” said Dixon, who became the coach at TCU in 2016. “I think there’s no way we could have done any better, and BYU is a big part of that. They’ll always be good in basketball. It’s a tough place to play. I’ve been there many times. Haven’t won there many times. Looking forward to the opportunity. I had heard about some of the football games when they were playing against each other (in the Mountain West). As a conference, we landed on our feet real well. BYU is a big part of that.”

TEXAS TECH

First-year Texas Tech coach Mark Adams has talked to Pope a couple of times and he said he knows a lot about him.

Adams’ son, Luke, coaches at New Mexico Junior College — which produced current BYU player Gideon George. And one of the assistants on his staff is Barret Peery, a Payson native and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“He’s always keeping up with the BYU scores,” Adams said.

What would he advise Pope about playing in the Big 12?

“I’d probably be trying to learn from him. He does a great job coaching post players and getting them ready for the NBA. I have a lot of respect and admiration for him. I don’t think I could tell him anything that he doesn’t already know,” Adams said. “It’s a very competitive league night-in and night-out. You’re playing against pros every day. It’s a great environment with great crowds. It’s a wonderful league to be in. I’m sure he already knows that. We’re really excited that he’s coming into the conference in the next couple of years. We’re excited about the (BYU) fan base. BYU’s got one of the best in the country.”

OKLAHOMA STATE

First-year OSU coach Mike Boynton said he respects Pope’s credentials as both a player and a coach.

“I don’t know if I need to tell Mark anything about basketball. He’s played and competed in this game at the highest level. He’ll be fine when that transition happens,” he said. “What I’ve always been mindful of is the level of respect that the coaches in this league have for each other. Everybody enjoys seeing each other have success when we’re not competing with each other. That might be a bit of a distinction from some of the other leagues that you see that have consternation amongst the coaches. I look forward to welcoming (BYU). I think they’ll have success. They’ve had success. He’s done a really good job with that program. I really don’t have advice for him. I’m sure they’ll continue to recruit well. They recruit a little bit differently than most of us. They’ll continue to find their niche once they make that transition.”

Boynton said the coaching in the Big 12 is second to none.

“Every night, you’re going to be matched up against, arguably, a Hall of Fame-level coach every night, a Final Four, championship-caliber guy every time you take the floor. You just have to focus on your preparation and recruit the best guys that fit what you do. You do your best. You’ll take your lumps. That’s part of it. But eventually (Pope) figure it out and he’ll do just fine.”

KANSAS

Kansas coach Bill Self, who guided the Jayhawks to the 2008 national championship, faced BYU and Pope in the Maui Invitational two years ago. He walked away impressed.

“Mark will be a star in our profession. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got personality. BYU to me is, a sleeping giant is probably not the right word because it makes it sound like they haven’t done it yet. But they’re a team that could be really good for a long time,” Self said. “Certainly as long as Mark’s there. When I say really good, it’s an NCAA Tournament team year in and year out. I think he’ll do a great job. What people in our league that have never been there don’t know is, that’s one of the best home courts in the country, too. There will be 19,000 packed in for every Big 12 game. They’ll be excited to be a part of it. You’re playing on the most bouncy floor in the country. And you’re playing in altitude. That’s a good home court. I think they’re a great add to our league.”

IOWA STATE

T.J. Otzelberger was a longtime assistant coach at Iowa State before becoming its head coach last spring after spending two years as UNLV’s head coach.

He was in his first year as UNLV’s head coach when the Runnin’ Rebels lost 83-50 to BYU at Vivint Arena.

When Iowa State beat BYU in 2013 at the Marriott Center, Oztelberger had just left the Cyclones to join the staff at Washington. Later that season, with Otzelberger as an assistant for the Huskies, the Cougars beat Washington in Provo in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

OKLAHOMA

First-year Oklahoma coach Porter Moser was heavily influenced by former Utah coach Rick Majerus.

Certainly, he must have heard stories from Majerus about the BYU-Utah rivalry.

“None that I can air publicly. Coach was very competitive with that Utah-BYU rivalry, which you can imagine,” Moser said. “He told me how crazy it was when they’d come to play at Utah. He talked a lot about it. The crowds and the rivalry. He had a lot of fondness of his Utah days and the rivalries he had.”

Moser met Pope at the NBA draft camp and the two talked for a while.

“I’ve always respected and admired the job he’s done,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the way they do things and how they do things and how good they are. He’s really a star on the rise.”

This season, Moser, who led Loyola Chicago to the Final Four in 2018, will be coaching in the Big 12 for the first time. What does he know at this point about what it’s like to coach in this conference?

“Defensively, how hard it is to score in this league. Unbelievably well-coached. So many teams really, really guard. Some coaches look at their schedules and they look all the way down. Where can we get a win? In this league, you don’t do that,” Moser said. “You put tape over the rest of the schedule and you look at it one at a time. You can’t look too far ahead because it will drive you nuts. It’s a gauntlet. But that’s what I wanted. To be in a league where you get enough games to have a resume. It’s one of the best basketball leagues in the country. The national champion came from there. Multiple champions. It’s an unbelievable basketball league — the fan bases, everything about it.”