So, basketball starters Caleb Lohner and Gideon George are in the transfer portal, signaling their departure from BYU?

What does it mean? Where are they going? Is the sky falling on Mark Pope and his program?

Well, it looks like a setback, a negative, even a challenge.

Lohner is a tremendous athlete and elite rebounder in search of consistency with his outside shot. George is a streaky shooter with great athletic skills. Pope could certainly use them next season. What hurts the most is how much time Pope’s staff invested in these two. No question they could use more development to reach their potential.

On Monday, after talking to myriad people close to both athletes, the BYU program and the game in general, there’s plenty to speculate about.

One person said he believed Lohner and George both wanted to live in warmer weather. He was dead serious.

Another said he could see Lohner and George transferring for something as simple as the weather or a whole catalog of reasons because that is what college basketball has become. He could see transfers like this coming a decade ago when there was talk of a transfer portal as well as name, image and likeness deals. That is the future of the game, and it’s migrated from a team sport to what the individual can get.

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How big of void does loss of Caleb Lohner and Gideon George leave for BYU basketball?

A third guy said both would be better served to stay in Provo and get better at the game. If they don’t, they should go to smaller programs like Utah Valley University or Southern Utah University. In that realm, they could try to score 25 or 30 points a game, be the show and down the road get an invitation to Portsmouth, where they could get on a hot streak and get a look from NBA or European League scouts.

In a sense, Pope brought this on himself with his ambitions of a program built on transfers and the portal. But that’s what most all college coaches are doing.

BYU’s most successful formula for success — and I’d say the same goes for the University of Utah and Utah State in many ways — has been to build programs with players with ties to Utah/Idaho or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and augment the roster with an occasional Michael Loyd, Rafael Araujo or Jeff Chatman

That plan seems to work and fans rally around that kind of roster.

At one stage of this past season, BYU started five players who were not Latter-day Saints for the first time in program history. It was a historical mark. But before folks worry too much about transfers, that BYU team did not make the NCAA Tournament or even advance to the Final Four of the NIT.

BYU has had plenty of players transfer over the decades with a variety of results, some of them not necessarily huge difference makers at their new places.  

These include Wyatt Lowell (Snow College), Connor Harding (UVU), Daniel Bobik (Oklahoma State), Jake Toolson (UVU, return to BYU), Todd Gentry (USU), Frank Bartley IV (Louisiana Laffeyette), Michael Loyd (Midwestern State), Jordan Chatman (Boston College), Jahshire Hardnett (Montana), Mark Michaelis (Oregon), Demarcus Harrison (Clemson), Matt Carlino (Marquette) and Payton Dastrup (Oregon State).

Some would argue the departure of Lohner and George signals that Pope and his staff are rubbing players the wrong way and, disenchanted, the players are leaving.

But Pope has a track record of selling his program to players, including getting Yoeli Childs to return for a very successful senior season. Same with Alex Barcello, who returned this past year for his senior year, as well as the transfer of Jake Toolson back to BYU.

BYU basketball is reportedly losing 2 significant contributors

Twitter blew up Monday with former BYU guard Nick Emery going after Pope with the announcement of Lohner and George leaving. He was immediately scoured by Toolson in a blistering exchange.

Wrote Emery: “What have I been saying for the last 3 years?! And y’all think I’m crazy.  Players AND coaches wanting out … I knew time would tell!”

He got an immediate reaction from both BYU and Utah fans.

In answering Emery on Twitter, Toolson posted: “It’s obvious that all you have ever cared about is your poor me victim narrative. If you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen. Nobody’s got time for your boo hoo baby stories.”

One source Monday said that Pope is all over the place working to rebuild the roster. It really hurt to invest all the time and energy into both Lohner and George and have them leave, but that is the landscape right now, and Pope isn’t alone facing that challenge today.

This person added that in his opinion the chances of athletes transferring and producing at a high level somewhere else are very low. “If you can’t play for Pope, who are you going to play for that can get more out of you in a short time? Not happening.”

Some speculate Lohner could end up in Utah, but others believe he might be looking to get closer to his home in Texas, like Baylor or somewhere with a beach and surf.

Lohner certainly will shop himself around. Heck, he might end up at Malibu and Pepperdine if he likes Zuma Beach or Westwood (UCLA).

George came to the United States from Nigeria, where he was associated with a handler at JC Advocate named Brandon Goble. His future home could be tied to contacts with Goble or his junior college coach Luke Adams at New Mexico JC, a school always getting hit up for talent by Division I schools.

Jonathan Tavernari, a former BYU player active on social media, tweeted on Monday: “The fact a coach left along w/ a handful of players isn’t a great look. All eyes turn to Mark Pope, as he’s the head coach & it’s his program. However I’m not ready to say “out with Mark Pope” as he has delivered 2 out of 3 seasons with him at the helm. Next 2 weeks are crucial.”

Jeff Hansen of 247sports tweeted: “The Lohner and George stories will both be about unrealized potential. BYU can replace 15 PPG and 11 RPG with two scholarships. But both Lohner and George *should* have produced more. Was that BYU’s fault? That’s what their next stops will tell us. Both are great dudes.”

Steve Pierce, active on Twitter as a BYU basketball insider, tweeted Monday: “You lost a guy who had some great moments but never found consistency and, as a senior now, probably was never going to. And a guy who just had an extremely disappointing year and, as a junior, might be mostly baked on who he can be w/o a change of scenery. Stop panicking.”

Well, until Pope starts making announcements of some kind with some positive news, you could certainly understand why a lot of folks in Cougarville are in kind of panic at the most, and a little confused at the least.

What a spring.