It’s interesting how important assistant basketball coaches are to head coaches.

Utah’s Craig Smith just brought home alum Chris Burgess from BYU. He needed a deep tie to Utah’s past, a name guy, an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a very good coach who is attached to a winner at present.

Now BYU’s Mark Pope is looking for a replacement, someone who will help transition the program from the WCC to the Big 12. He needs a recruiter and a grinder, someone who can put in the work, the hours, the time, and be an asset.

Think how important that’s been over the years in Provo, from Ladell Andersen needing Roger Reid, Reid needing Tony Ingle and Lynn Archibald, Steve Cleveland leaning on Dave Rose and Rose looking to Dave Rice, Mark Pope and Heath Schroyer — all of whom became head coaches post-BYU.

It’s a pretty big deal, these lieutenants.

Craig Smith needed a ‘Utah man’ on his staff; BYU assistant Chris Burgess fits the bill
With Chris Burgess leaving BYU, where will coach Mark Pope turn to replace him?

I’d look for Pope to get the best he can find in a grinder, coach and recruiter. A name at the top of the list would be Payson native and current Texas Tech associate head coach Barrett Peery. The Red Raiders finished ranked No. 12 and Peery knows the Big 12.

Another name toward the top of the list should be Kahil Fennell, a former assistant at Portland State with Peery who spent the past four years as an assistant coach at Louisville and was not retained when Chris Mack was released at the end of the season.

Hernan Olaya is a former national player for Columbia who has worked with former BYU assistant Walter Roese at the NBA Academy in Latin America. Olaya checks the box for BYU to continue to recruit internationally.

As a player development coach for NBA Academy Latin America, Olaya supports the day-to-day development and coaching of top high school-age players from across the region. Prior to joining NBA Academy Latin America, Olaya served as director of sports performance at Pursuit Athletics Center in Toronto, Canada. 

You always have to look at Pope’s relationships. When he played at Kentucky, an amazing number of his teammates went into coaching after NBA careers. Those include former Wyoming head coach and current assistant at LMU Allen Edwards; Tony Delk, who last coached at Kentucky and New Mexico State (2011-13); Wayne Turner, current director of player development at Louisville; Walter McCarty, coach of the Evansville Purple Aces from 2018 to 2022; and Nazr Mohammed, current GM of the Oklahoma City Blue and scout for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

BYU can’t discount the value of former players either, and there’s no bigger brand for a generation of young players than Jimmer Fredette. While Fredette has not quit playing, there will come a time BYU’s athletic department will need to call him home. His value in recruiting, fundraising, teaching, leading and marketing would be invaluable. 

It would be foolish not to consider Fredette at some time, if not now, soon. He currently lives in Denver preparing for a playing opportunity. He can tell a recruit, “At BYU, I became the National Player of the Year and someone else before me did it, too (Danny Ainge).”  That’s quite the talking point.

BYU’s Jeff Judkins retiring after 21 seasons as Cougars women’s basketball coach

Travis Hansen, a former Mountain View High, UVU and BYU star and second-round NBA pick with a European League professional career, has had Division I coaching offers this past year. Hansen is a successful businessman with a myriad of corporate holdings and worldwide charities, and has ties to Mali, Africa and Europe.

Hansen currently coaches the AAU team that helped develop recent Utah Utes signee from Wasatch Academy Keba Keita. Hansen and Marty and Tyler Haws coach his Utah Stars at Springville High and his AAU squads playing the 17, 16 and 15 under divisions. 

Hansen’s eighth-grade team has won almost every title in the United States, including the Final Four of the 2021 Made Hoops, Elite Eight of the 2022 Made Hoops, 2021 Las Vegas Classic, and were back-to-back champions of the 2021 and 2022 Youngblood Tournament.

The AAU competition provided development for future BYU stars TJ and Tyler Haws, Nick Emery and Eric Mika. Hansen could easily give BYU what Burgess brought to the table in terms of knowledge, recruiting and connections.

Another name making the rounds is Wasatch Academy head coach Paul Peterson, an alum of BYU-Hawaii with professional experience in England, Germany and Serbia. Peterson replaced Dave Evans at Wasatch Academy.

Peterson coached current Cougars Caleb Lohner and Fouss Traore. BYU did not offer his current star Keita. Instead they opted to develop Ali Atiki Atiki and make a run for class of 2024’s Malick Diallo by giving him his first Division I offer.

This is going to get interesting. Heck, throw Jeff Judkins’ name in there now he’s retired.

The big game these days is the transfer portal and international talent. Pope knows he has to hire a real connected, driven and motivated recruiter.

That’s the ticket Pope must punch as soon as possible.