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Why depth won’t be an issue for 2021-22 Cougars

Because of that, who starts and who comes off the bench shouldn’t really be an issue either

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BYU Gideon George, left, dribbles against Caleb Lohner during Blue and White scrimmage at the Marriott Center in Provo, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.

BYU Gideon George, left, dribbles against Caleb Lohner during Blue and White scrimmage at the Marriott Center in Provo, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.

BYU Photo

With BYU’s 2021-22 basketball season set to tip off next Tuesday at home against Cleveland State, the Cougars have one final tune-up.

BYU hosts Colorado Christian, a Division II program, Thursday (7 p.m. MDT, BYUtv) in an exhibition game. 

Senior guard Alex Barcello was sidelined for last Friday’s Blue-White Scrimmage due to a minor injury, a case of whiplash on his neck, suffered during a fall in practice. It’s unclear if Barcello will play Thursday.

Regardless, the Cougars are eager to play an opponent. 

“I’m itching (to play). I cannot wait. I’m so mad when I go home. I’m seeing all of these other teams playing exhibition games,” said guard Te’Jon Lucas. “We’ve been beating up on each other for the last four or five months. I’m ready to play someone else and take our anger out on them.

“It’s coming right away. It feels like I just got here but the season is right around the corner. … Now we can prepare for someone else in our exhibition game. It will be good to play someone else in another jersey.”

BYU is also expected to show off its depth Thursday. 

That was on display during last week’s scrimmage, when freshman forward Fousseyni Traore came off the bench to hit 8 of 10 shots from the floor, including 2 of 2 from 3-point range, en route to a 20-point, 11-rebound night. 

“We have a lot of depth, whether they’re vets or young guys. Fouss came off the bench. It doesn’t really matter, especially on a coach Pope team,” said assistant coach Chris Burgess. “That creates a lot of competition and it creates a lot of energy in practice. The guys are really going at each other. I think it’s great.”

“It provides the guys a lot of confidence in each other, knowing that they can go out and play as hard as possible every day in practice as well as night-in and night-out as we get these games started,” assistant coach Nick Robinson said of the team’s depth. “As a staff, it provides us multiple options to be able to help guys compete. It’s a lot of fun. It’s great to have depth.”

Gideon George, who scored 14 points in the scrimmage, has made a big jump from last season.

“Gideon’s effort and energy has really improved consistently. Defensively, he’s doing a great job of talking and executing what we’re asking of him,” Robinson said. “Offensively, he’s making the simple play. That’s been a real big step for him to gain more confidence in what we’re doing.”

George expanded his game during the offseason. 

“Last year he was learning multiple positions. Now, he’s had a year and summer to solidify his understanding of his positions,” Robinson said.

“We’ve known he can guard any position on the floor. Offensively, he’s feeling more comfortable and confident in what he’s been asked to do at multiple positions.”

Meanwhile, forward Gavin Baxter, who has missed most of the past two seasons due to injuries, played limited minutes during the scrimmage. In 10 minutes, he made 3 of 5 shots from the floor. 

“It was so fun to see him play those 10 minutes and to run up and down the floor, finish around the rim, it was great to see him out there,” Burgess said. “He’s been limited and building up over the last month or so. He’s on a minutes-restriction that way. He was able to get 2-2 ½ minutes of live play. That was great.

“That’s a huge step for him, not just physically but mentally, that he can do this. He’s been out for two years. That’s where he’s at — 3-minute spurts for who knows how many reps. We couldn’t be more happy with that. Today was a win for Gavin and his teammates for him to be out there on the court, in a jersey, running up and down on the court again.”

Assistant coach Cody Fueger said BYU’s starting five was not settled as of last Friday night. But who starts may not matter much because of BYU’s depth. 

“It’s still up in the air a little bit. We have a couple we know for sure but a couple we’re not for sure,” Fueger said. “The good thing is, we have a ton of depth and these guys are playing their hearts out in practice right now. They’re challenging each other at every moment. Practice has been unreal, the energy and effort we’re getting every day.”