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BYU basketball coach Mark Pope is busy recruiting the transfer portal and it got more serious this week after starters Caleb Lohner and Gideon George announced and Gavin Baxter put their names in the transfer portal.

George previously had announced he was exploring his NBA evaluation to forgo his senior year. Right now BYU’s basketball roster includes a handful of players with extensive experience including Fouss Traore, Atiki Ally Atiki, Spencer Johnson, Trevin Knell and Seneca Knight.

Three returning missionaries are slated to be back for next season including Richie Saunders, Dallin Hall and Tanner Toolson.

Pope will also need to replace Chris Burgess, who is expected to be announced as an assistant coach at Utah.

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Question of the week: What do you make of Chris Burgess leaving BYU and Caleb Lohner and Gideon George entering the transfer portal?

Jay Drew: Frankly, I wasn’t shocked when news broke Monday morning — first reported by Jake Hatch of The Zone Sports Network — that Caleb Lohner and Gideon George had entered the transfer portal and would almost certainly leave BYU. Rumors have been flying for a month that George’s days in Provo were numbered, and when news broke last week that Chris Burgess was joining Craig Smith’s staff at the U., speculation that Lohner would follow surfaced in a lot of places.

I’m not as close to BYU’s program as I once was, but I’m hearing that some of the reasons for Lohner and George wanting out have nothing to do with basketball. Are some players unhappy with their experiences in coach Mark Pope’s program? Perhaps.

At any rate, the departures are a significant blow to BYU basketball. Pope and his staff have invested significant time and energy in the twosome the past two years, and now those efforts won’t be fully realized. That’s a shame.

As for Burgess, I am hearing that Utah made him a financial offer that was too good to pass up, especially for a guy who once donned the red and still has strong feelings for the place. Money talks — and so does loyalty. I think both were factors in Burgess bolting for the red.

Dick Harmon: Chris Burgess has coached for only one man — Mark Pope. So for Burgess, the opportunity to work with another talented coach and get a big raise is great for him and his family. I wish him all the luck in the world because he deserves it.

I think the loss of Lohner and George is more a product of the times. There are 1,250 players in the portal this week. We now live in the age of the transfer portal and this is how athletes operate in their individual interests to enhance playing time, roles, or NIL money. BYU has benefited from it with transfers Matt Haarms, Alex Barcello, Seneca Night, Te’jon Lucas and others. Lohner is an elite rebounder who was playing different positions and struggled as a scorer. I think Pope gave him every opportunity to shoot the ball, especially from distance, and he struggled. George is an athletic streaky shooter who, after talking to folks close to the program, wanted to leave for other reasons than basketball. He will take with him the memories of fans giving him thousands of shoes for his native country of Nigeria. He was treated with respect and love. 

What it all means is Pope and his staff need to deliver some transfer talent ASAP. This week one of the nation’s top scorers made a visit. The team would have been better next year with Lohner and George than without them because of the investment in them in learning the defense, offense and schemes.

Cougar Tales

The same week Chris Burgess announced he was leaving BYU for Utah, 20-year veteran BYU’s women’s coach Jeff Judkins announced he would retire from BYU. Here is a story by Jeff Call on possible replacements for Judkins.

From the archives

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Why Jeff Judkins’ legacy transcends wins and titles
Mark Pope needs a grinder and proven recruiter to replace Chris Burgess

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Comments from Deseret News readers

I think people read into these things more than they should. Everybody could see Lohner wasn’t reaching his potential. A change of scenery and different coaching could help a lot, or maybe it won’t. Gideon is more surprising. But he might have also felt his potential is higher somewhere else. BYU lost its big men this year and it affected everybody down the line. It’s not clear those issues will be fixed in the future and athletes trying to make it to the NBA can only be team players for so long.

— delassale

We really have no idea what led to the decisions for Lohner and George.

It is a big disappointment to not be able to see what they can do next season with the Y.

Much is published about how well Burgess teaches the bigs and his ability to establish relationships. If Lohner ends up at Utah; then we know that Burgess’ relationship definitely impacted Lohner’s decision. With George, it may be something entirely different.

The Y is not prepared for the Big 12 in terms of depth and talent.

With college player free agency combined with the expectation of immediate playing time as a freshman, I’d say a coach’s ability to establish strong, trusting and transparent relationships with a player and their family ensures a player fits a system and culture of a program is paramount more than ever to avoid defection via the portal, and not be dependent upon JUCO transfers.

I am sure Burgess has demonstrated those skills and is at a stage in his career he needs to look at that next rung on the ladder. Utah was the next logical opportunity for him irrespective of his experience at the Y or coaching under Pope.

Pope does have a solid foundation or record of getting a team to overachieve, or be able to take second chances on players which has led to both player and team overachieving.

He now is at a crossroads that includes not being anywhere close to having a Big 12 caliber program, much less a caliber of program that can challenge Gonzaga in the WCC or keep pace with USF, Santa Clara or St. Mary’s.

There is one thing I like about Pope. He does not make excuses, even when he has a good case to make one, he does not. He does embrace a challenge even if some interpret it as being a master of spin.

Biggest concern is can Pope bring in top high school talent, develop it; retain it as opposed to being dependent upon JUCO transfers or the portal? Bottom line is the Y is a rebuild at present.

— Jayson Meliine

Up next

April 20-22 | Track and field | Robison Invitational | @Provo

April 20 | 6 p.m. | Softball | vs. UVU | @Provo

April 20 | 5 p.m. | Men’s volleyball | vs. Pepperdine | @Los Angeles

April 21 | 8 a.m. | Women’s golf | WCC Championships | @Las Vegas

April 21 | 6 p.m. | Baseball | vs. San Diego | @Provo

April 22-23 | TBA | Men’s golf | Cougar Classic | @Provo