In his question-and-answer session with reporters last month after the recently concluded season, BYU basketball coach Mark Pope stated that he and his staff would be “super aggressive” in the transfer portal in an attempt to add veterans to his relatively young roster as the Cougars head into the Big 12 this fall. 

“You get a chance to be where you most want to be and where you believe you should be. That’s probably a positive for these young guys.” — BYU coach Mark Pope on the transfer portal

Almost a month later, it’s clear that Pope is being true to his word — BYU has been very active in the transfer portal, to put it mildly. 

Pope is a big proponent of the transfer portal, under the right circumstances. 

Long before the transfer portal existed, Pope experienced transferring as a player, going from the University of Washington to the University of Kentucky, where he won a national championship. 

“You get a chance to be where you most want to be and where you believe you should be,” he said. “That’s probably a positive for these young guys.”

Will the Cougars’ impending membership in the Big 12 give them a boost when it comes to attracting transfers? 

Which players are Pope and his staff pursuing?

And how much will name, image and likeness influence potential transfers? 

Transfers that the Cougars are chasing

When national college basketball analysts report on social media about players entering the transfer portal, and which schools are reaching out to those players, BYU appears on a lot of those lists.

One of the most high-profile transfers the Cougars are going after is Syracuse guard Joe Girard. And BYU is in the mix for his services.

Girard hails from the same high school — Glens Falls High — that produced Cougar legend Jimmer Fredette, who was one of Girard’s idols growing up.  

Girard signed with Syracuse, where he enjoyed a solid career, averaging 12.4 points per game. He is scheduled to have in-home visits with BYU, Clemson and Notre Dame, according to multiple outlets. 

Another intriguing prospect for the Cougars is Steven Ashworth, a Lone Peak High product who grew up a BYU fan. He averaged 16.2 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 43.4% from 3-point range last season as he helped Utah State to a 26-9 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. 

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Others that the Cougars have targeted and are making a run for, according to reports, include:

Texas A&M CC guard Trey Tennyson; Charlotte’s 6-foot-11 Aly Kalifa; North Texas’ 6-10 Abou Ousmane; Marshall’s 7-1 Micah Handlogten (who has committed to Florida); Oregon State’s Glenn Taylor Jr.; UC Irvine’s Dawson Baker (who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints); Southern Illinois’ Marcus Domask; Penn State’s Kebba Njie; and Cal State Fullerton’s Latrell Wrightsell Jr. 

As of April 10, BYU had lost one player to the portal — freshman Braeden Moore, who redshirted last season. 

NIL and the transfer portal, ‘the BYU way’

Name, image and likeness plays a big factor in transfer decisions, particularly now that athletes are allowed to earn money.

Pope trumpets the fact that guard Trey Stewart was one of the first athletes to start an NIL business. Fousseyni Traore and Atiki Ally Atiki have both started foundations to help people from their native countries. Gideon George also started a foundation, collecting shoes for people at home in Nigeria. 

Still, college athletes from foreign countries must deal with challenges that make it difficult for them to monetize their talents. 

ESPN.com recently reported that BYU has helped players like George make money.

“Student visa rules don’t prevent athletes from receiving money while on American soil if the work that generated that money was done elsewhere,” ESPN.com reported.

According to ESPN.com, George allowed a Utah-based car dealership to use photos of him in advertisements in exchange for the use of a car. 

While BYU won’t be able to compete with many programs around the country, Pope has admitted that the program has fallen short in some recruiting battles due to NIL. 

“That’s a space where we’re going to continue to grow and find out how to do it in a way that’s in harmony with our university,” he said. “This NIL money is a real part of this. It is not the end-all, be-all. There are some programs that were really successful about buying teams. This is a real part of this process.

“It’s going to be a complicated thing here at BYU. It’s a very new concept here. Donors and fans are appropriately cautious. … We are not on the cutting edge right now of NIL. And that’s OK. That’s probably appropriate for BYU.  

“I do think we’ll continue to grow there. It’s a massively important part of college athletics right now,” he continued. “We’re going to figure that out the BYU way. For us, it’s probably not going to be at a place where it serves as a quick fix. Hopefully, we can find a way where it’s an incredibly positive experience for our student-athletes and can be more than just a cash handout.”

Pope is trying to leverage the advantages and opportunities that BYU offers. 

“The storyline of NIL at a lot of places is guys receiving a check. What you’re seeing from our guys is, they’re going to make a massive difference in the world,” he said. “We’re beyond proud of that. It might not be the open-the-door sell, but in the long run it’s a winning formula.”

BYU Cougars coach Mark Pope talks to Jaxson Robinson after beating the Weber State Wildcats in Provo on Dec. 22, 2022.
BYU head coach Mark Pope talks to Jaxson Robinson after beating the Weber State Wildcats in Provo on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022. Pope and his staff are busy scouring the transfer portal ahead entering the Big 12. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News