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‘It’s the happiest time of my life right now’: Why Alex Barcello decided to return to BYU basketball for one more season

Before Barcello’s announcement, Pope told the crowd that Barcello had just gotten engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Zoe Simpson

SHARE ‘It’s the happiest time of my life right now’: Why Alex Barcello decided to return to BYU basketball for one more season
BYU’s Alex Barcello high-fives a participant during a Fathers and Sons basketball camp. Barcello announced he will return to play for BYU next season.

BYU guard Alex Barcello high-fives a participant during a Fathers and Sons basketball camp at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, May 28, 2021. Barcello announced during the camp that he will return and play for the Cougars during the 2021-22 season.

BYU Photo

After weeks of contemplating and exploring his options, honorable mention All-American guard Alex Barcello finally made up his mind that he wanted to return to BYU for one more season.

Coach Mark Pope, a showman who has a flair for the dramatic, hatched a plan of how to announce that decision to the world.

So Friday night at the Smith Fieldhouse, during the school’s annual Fathers and Sons basketball camp, with masks no longer required, Pope told the hundreds in attendance that the youngsters needed to take the floor next to Barcello “to exert the most pressure ever on a player in the history of college basketball to come back to school.”

Then, surrounded by the young campers, who had just been chanting, “One more year!” Barcello took the microphone.

“I don’t know if coach needs any more help recruiting,” he said, “because I’m coming back!”

That prompted spontaneous cheers from those attending the camp. 

It was a quintessential, post-pandemic Pope and Barcello moment, to kick off Memorial Day weekend.  

Before Barcello’s announcement, Pope told the crowd that Barcello had just gotten engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Zoe Simpson. 

Later, Pope and Barcello met with reporters, who were able to ask questions in person rather than on Zoom for the first time in more than one year. 

“Only three other teams have an All-American coming back into their program. What he does in the locker room and his leadership is so incredible.” — BYU coach Mark Pope, on Alex Barcello

“Pope, with his incredible mind, thinks of this grand idea. You know Pope, go big or go home,” Barcello said. “He was like, ‘What if you did it at the Fathers and Sons camp? Nobody will have masks on.’ I thought that was the perfect time to do it. I love the fans so much. I have so much love for this university. I couldn’t pass up on another year.”

For Pope, Barcello’s return is a major development, especially for a young team. 

“Only three other teams have an All-American coming back into their program. What he does in the locker room and his leadership is so incredible,” Pope said. “He believes he can keep getting better and really make a push at his dream of being an NBA basketball player. He has a sense for how hard that is. I think it’s a huge thing for our program. I’ve never won a game, coaching at BYU, without Alex Barcello. I would like to not have to try for another year. So I’m super excited about that.”

Barcello, with Zoe at his side, sported a million-dollar grin.

“It’s a surreal feeling. We just got engaged. That’s surreal. It was a movie the night that it happened. Then me deciding to come back, it was the cherry on top,” he said. “The best things that have happened in my life — and I’m so excited, so happy. To come back and play for BYU, which is such a great university, I couldn’t ask for much more.

“As badly as I wanted to go play pro and go overseas,” he added, “there was so much left on the table, so much unfinished business that I feel like I owe to this university and the coaching staff that believed in me.”

Due to the pandemic, Barcello is a super senior and his scholarship won’t count against the program’s 13 scholarships.

“These super seniors are freebies. That’s a real gift for us,” Pope said. “It’s awesome. I wish they’d do that every year.”

In 2020-21, Barcello averaged 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He shot 52.3% from the field, including 47.7% from 3-point range. He shot 85.6% from the free-throw line. 

While the Cougars posted a 20-7 record and a surprising sixth seed in the NCAA Tournament, they bowed out meekly in the first round to eventual Final Four team UCLA. That impacted his decision to return.

“I’ve got a bitter taste in my mouth right now still from it. We had a phenomenal season. With COVID, we battled a lot of adversity. We still had a really great season,” Barcello said. “For what we wanted to accomplish, we didn’t make it. Only one team makes it to win the national championship every year. … I want to cleanse that bitter feeling. I’m so excited.”

During his decision-making process, Barcello talked to agents and NBA teams. 

“They were thinking that it’s not a traditional draft-year process, they’re not going to have a couple of their camps and push my name out there and maybe wiggle my way onto a roster, teams weren’t sure about team workouts,” he said. “All the feedback I was getting made me really dig down deep on what my heart really wants. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be in the NBA. I wanted to see myself put on that jersey and play in front of those crowds. Coming back another year, this coaching staff is going to help me develop even more and hopefully I’ll hear my name in that next draft. I don’t want to live with any regrets. I feel like if I would have left, I maybe would have had regret creep up because I’m the kind of guy that wants to put my full heart into everything. … It’s such a blessing.”

Barcello also had conversations with former Cougars TJ Haws and Jake Toolson, who played professionally this past season. 

They told him if they had the chance, they’d return to BYU. “It was good to hear that from former teammates that I respect,” Barcello said.

Another person that played a big role in helping him through the process was, of course, Zoe, his fiancee. 

“I wanted to come back. I was pushing him in that direction,” Zoe said. “When he finally got the clarity to make that decision, it was perfect.”

Barcello traveled to Arizona to attend Zoe’s graduation from the University of Arizona and to ask for her father’s blessing before asking her to marry him. Barcello proposed to Zoe four years and seven months to the day after they started dating. 

“I had the (engagement) ring the whole season. I got it at the beginning of the season,” he said. “Two great things happening in my life. I couldn’t be more happy to spend the rest of my life with her.”

The couple are planning to get married sometime after the basketball season ends. 

Somewhere, Barcello is still smiling. 

“I really believe that if I didn’t have the coaching staff and players that we did, I don’t know if I’d come back. It’s such a phenomenal environment to be in,” he said. “It will help you grow a lot. I want to make the most out of this next year. I want to focus on the details with my game. My dream is to play in the NBA. I didn’t see that being a possibility this year … but I don’t want to live with any regrets. I want to leave it all out on the table and give my whole heart to this university, this team, and coaching staff and my beautiful fiancee, give her everything she could ever imagine. I couldn’t be happier. … It’s the happiest time of my life right now.”