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Why return of Alex Barcello to BYU as a super senior is gold for Mark Pope

All-American Alex Barcello’s return to BYU changes dynamics of program

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Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) moves with the ball during a game against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in Provo.

Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) moves with the ball during a game against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Barcello announced he will return to play for the Cougars next season.

Annie Barker, Deseret News

Alex Barcello’s return to BYU for another year is like NASA finding a recyclable booster.

It saves Mark Pope time and energy finding a leader.

It instantly injects a playmaker into his offense.

It allows BYU basketball to train, educate and groom a point guard while continuing to recruit that position.

It gives Pope another year while he waits for players on missions, guys like former Wasatch Academy guard Richie Saunders. He can now insert freshman redshirt Hunter Erickson into minutes that shape his future use as a combo guard and give returning missionary Trey Stewart time to adjust.

It gives Pope a free scholarship player since as a super senior, Barcello doesn’t count on his 13 scholarship limit. That’s playing with house money.

It allows Pope to put two veteran backcourt talents on the floor at the same time with recent signee Milwaukee senior transfer Te’Jon Lucas picking up pointers from Barcello.

It allows Pope to have a veteran around who has been on WCC road trips, played at St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, and actually has experience beating the Zags.

It gives BYU basketball an alpha dog, a confident, hungry, zeroed-in weapon who won’t back down.

In other words, Pope gets back one of the most accurate 2-point shooters in school history, the only player to have made seven consecutive 3s in a game, a finisher and a great midrange shooter.

Yeah, he can find a place for him.

Pope’s showmanship on Friday, creating an almost circuslike atmosphere at the program’s annual Fathers and Sons camp, was, well, over the top. 

With an audience chanting “one more year” over and over again as Barcello made his announcement, it was milked drama, as staged as an elaborate puppet show.

But can you blame him for creating a barrel of love for Barcello?

Think of the alternative without Barcello coming back.

Pope would have had a season of guessing games, would have had to slow things down in practices and endure even greater growing pains. He’d have had to be more careful in games not to overstretch the squad with leadership waiting to surface. 

Think of the chemistry built in with Caleb Lohner, Spencer Johnson, Gavin Baxter, Richard Harward, Gideon George and Trevin Knell.

Now, with Barcello back, Pope is, as they say here out West, packing.

At BYU, Pope has never won a game without Barcello. He just may be one of his biggest recruits when he got him to transfer from Arizona.

Pope put it this way to media folks on Friday: 

“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. 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.”

All that is an understatement by Pope.

Barcello is a one-more-season lifeline for Pope to continue to mine the transfer portal for answers in a program that is continually trying to fill in for its sign-and-go missionary model.

I’d say Barcello is the difference in five to seven games for BYU this coming season, easy.

And that could make the difference between going to the Big Dance and finding some other postseason distraction to keep things going in March.

On Friday, Pope got another few miles out of Barcello who made a one-take recruiting video for BYU basketball in front of cameras, extolling his experience at the program, praising his teammates and coaches.

On a personal and professional note, it has been remarkable seeing the development of Barcello the past two years. He came from Arizona a broken spirit. Now he’s a Captain America kind of force on the court.

At his side was his fiancee Zoe Simpson, a recent graduate from the University of Arizona. Let’s not discount the influence she had on this decision. The couple will marry after the basketball season.

You can’t tell me Zoe didn’t have input in the decision to have her future husband play another year in the United States with comfy surroundings and familiar culture as opposed to placing the near future in a traveling nomad life in Europe, trying to get a break and a look at the NBA while easing into the first year of marriage.

That first year is always the toughest, right?

That’s what people say.

This is a good move for everyone concerned. Barcello gets a launching pad to continue to hone his game and Pope gets a bonafide stud star to take the reins of what he wants to get done.

Winners all around.