Did BYU basketball get stronger this offseason? Sizing up the Cougars’ new-look roster
Based on the influx of talent, and the talent already in the program, this team could be the best one Mark Pope has put together at BYU
Now that BYU’s basketball roster appears to be finalized after the recent commitment of Louisiana State transfer Seneca Knight, it’s time to examine what kind of team coach Mark Pope has fashioned for this season.
The Cougars once again will have depth with an intriguing mix of returning players and newcomers. Not only will BYU be a strong candidate to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but it could be a Top 25 team for the third straight year as well.
Based on the influx of talent, added to the flourishing talent already in the program, this team could be the best one Pope has put together at BYU.
Entering his third season at the helm, Pope has shown an uncanny ability to blend a bunch of players from different backgrounds into a cohesive unit by getting them to buy into specific roles. This roster seems to have a lot of the right elements to make some magic again.
BYU basketball 2021-22 roster
Player, Year, Pos., Previous school
Atiki Ally Atiki, Fr., C, London Basketball Academy
Alex Barcello, Sr., G, Arizona
Gavin Baxter, Jr., F, Timpview HS
Casey Brown, Fr., G, Pleasant Grove HS
Jeremy DowDell, Fr., G, Olympus HS
Hunter Erickson, Fr., G, Timpview HS
Gideon George, Jr., F, New Mexico JC
Nate Hansen, Fr., G, Timpview HS
Richard Harward, Jr., C, Utah Valley University
Spencer Johnson, Jr., G, Salt Lake Community College
Trevin Knell, Jr., G, Woods Cross HS
Seneca Knight, Jr., F, Louisiana State
Caleb Lohner, Fr., F, Wasatch Academy
Te’Jon Lucas, Sr., G, Milwaukee
Trey Stewart, Fr., G, American Fork HS
Fousseyni Traore, Fr., F, Wasatch Academy
The centerpiece is senior guard, and team leader, Alex Barcello, who announced two months ago that he would be postponing his professional career and coming back to Provo for one final season.
Barcello averaged 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 rebounds per game in 2020-21 and he is the bridge that connects the success last year’s team enjoyed to this season.
“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 of Barcello. “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 shot 52.3% from the field, including 47.7% from 3-point range, and 85.6% from the free-throw line last season.
Pope and his staff also added two experienced players from the transfer portal — Knight and grad transfer guard Te’Jon Lucas.
Lucas averaged 14.9 points, 5.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game at Milwaukee last season and he gives the Cougars another senior guard in the backcourt to fill the void left by Brandon Averette.
Pope is looking forward to seeing what Barcello and Lucas can accomplish.
“Those dudes are so excited about playing together. You think about it — both of them are playmakers. It’s really important for us to have two playmakers on the floor. You could tell sometimes last year we got a little stagnant when we had only one of our two playmakers on the floor. When we had none, it was really troublesome,” Pope said. “Te’Jon averaged six assists a game. You can count on two hands how many guys in the country averaged six assists a game last year. The space those guys can provide each other and the playmaking ability they’ll provide for each other is going to be really special. We think it’s going to be a spectacular backcourt.”
Said assistant coach Cody Fueger of Lucas: “He’s competitive. He’s ready to go at all times. He’s got a great mindset for being a great playmaker. His goal is to make his teammates better. That’s what he does at a really high level. He’s a guard that has some Chris Paul in him. He sees the play beforehand. He’s a guard that can handle it. A big-time, playmaking guard that will do whatever it takes to help his team win. He doesn’t need to score but he can score.”
Knight is a versatile wing player that averaged 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists at San Jose State in 2019-20. He shot 48% from the field and earned third team All-Mountain West Conference honors before transferring to LSU, though he didn’t play last season.
“I feel like I bring experience and a competitive nature as well. I’m able to score and create for myself and also for others,” Knight said. “Whatever coach Pope says he needs me to do, going out there and executing it. He’s a great coach and I’m joining a great team. I just want to do my part to help make this team even better.”
Lohner led the team in rebounding last season. After a rough start in terms of 3-point shooting, he blistered the nets from 3 in West Coast Conference play. Last season, Lohner earned a spot on the All-WCC Freshman Team, along with Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
“He’s been a consistent contributor every single game, just getting better and better and better,” Pope said last March of Lohner. “But he’s doing it because he’s worried about the right things. I’m so impressed with this young man. I’m telling you, he’s going to be a star. If he can keep worrying about the right things, his trajectory is crazy. It’s awesome.”
The Cougars also return experienced players like guard Spencer Johnson, center Richard Harward and forward Gavin Baxter, although Baxter has played in only nine games in two years due to a shoulder injury and a knee injury. If Baxter can stay healthy, he gives the Cougars a strong inside presence as a playmaker, rebounder and rim protector.
Other intriguing additions to the roster include center Atiki Ally Atiki and forward Fousseyni Traore, a pair of freshmen from the countries of Tanzania and Mali, respectively.
Four players recently returned home from missions — guards Trey Stewart, Nate Hansen, Jeremy DowDell and Casey Brown.
How does Pope assess his team overall as of late July?
“I do think we have a bunch of guys, some pieces that fit together in a really interesting way,” he told BYU Sports Nation Thursday. “I think it’s growing into a group that’s willing to fight for each other and commit to each other.”
Gone from last year’s team are WCC Defensive Player of the Year Matt Haarms, who signed with a team in Germany, and Averette, who will be playing professionally in Cyprus.
Meanwhile, Kolby Lee transferred to Dixie State, Connor Harding transferred to UVU and Wyatt Lowell transferred to Snow College. Three walk-ons are no longer in the program as Jesse Wade retired from basketball, Townsend Tripple departed for a mission and Brandon Warr opted to focus on academics.
There are some sizable voids to fill — it’s almost impossible to replace a 7-foot-3 rim protector like Haarms, of course — but it seems like Pope and his staff have managed to strengthen the roster overall.
BYU, which posted a 20-7 record last season, played in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years last March. The Cougars bowed out in the first round to UCLA, which advanced all the way to the Final Four.
“I’ve got a bitter taste in my mouth right now still from it,” Barcello said.
Barcello and BYU’s returning players, as well as transfers Lucas and Knight, are hungry to get to the Big Dance — and advance.
Lucas chose BYU because “I just wanted to find the best fit, where I can trust the coaches and coaches that can help me develop my game better and reach the NCAA Tournament and make a deep run. Coach Pope has great pieces around me and does a great job of getting the most out of his players and developing them in a short amount of time.”
Expectations remain high at BYU. As usual, Pope’s charge is to challenge Gonzaga for the WCC title, and return to the NCAA Tournament, with a reloaded roster.