So, BYU signed a 6-foot-11 center from Egypt who is as comfortable shooting 3s as he is finishing at the rim. What does that mean?

That in itself is a big deal. 

If indeed BYU had Aly Khalifa as a top priority this recruiting cycle, it is a successful campaign in a business that has been made more difficult with NIL deals across the land.

Well, it represents a couple of things, really.

Head coach Mark Pope’s staff is hot and heavy at recruiting the transfer portal this spring, and Khalifa, who played at Charlotte, chose BYU over Florida a few days ago.

Khalifa looks to be a great addition for the Big 12-bound Cougars, who played without a true center this past season.  

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What Pope did is put 6-foot-6, 240-pound natural power forward Fousseyni Traore in the low block and fed him the ball. A bull of a man with long reach and muscle, Traore became BYU’s first player ever to average 61% field goal percentage in conference games. He had double-doubles all the time, but the job wore him down.

Traore attempted just one 3-pointer last year. He made it.

Add Khalifa into the mix. 

What it could do is take a lot of pressure off Traore.  

For instance, Khalifa could draw a post defender to the perimeter because, unlike Traore, the Egyptian is a huge threat from beyond the arc to the tune of 38% accuracy on 48 makes. He attempted 126.

Of course, you want a center to play center, get laborious on the low block, defend the rim, and get rebounds. You want your big guy to score down low.

But look at this luxury, if Khalifa delivers from outside. BYU brought in two transfer portal guys last year in Noah Waterman and Jaxson Robinson. Both came in touted as scorers, especially from distance. Waterman attempted 93 and made 30 (.323). Robinson made 61 of 178 for 33%. Khalifa was more accurate from 3-point land playing in Conference USA, where he was once Freshman of the Year.

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Gideon George attempted a similar number of 3s as Khalifa did last year (39 of 122) but was less accurate at 36%. BYU’s best outside shooter was Spencer Johnson (41 for 89 for 46%). Point guard Rudi Williams was a 31% shooter from 3-point distance and freshman Dallin Hall converted at 36% accuracy.

Of course, all BYU players, including Khalifa, will face greater defenders in the Big 12. 

But in a word, Khalifa is a threat.

A second factor: passing.

Last season Pope’s biggest challenge was the amount of turnovers his team made, especially in the first half of the schedule. It cost them possessions, leads, momentum and games. You could say it was the biggest factor in finishing fifth in the WCC as well as the close losses to Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga.

A big share of the turnovers came when BYU tried to pass the ball inside, or when Traore or backup center Atiki Ally Atiki tried to pass or receive a pass or make a move (mishandled passes, traveling infractions, three-second calls). Traore had 73 turnovers and Atiki had 43 for a combined 116. If you factor George into the mix (56), that trio accounted for 174 of the team’s 481 turnovers.

Khalifa can pass.

That single trait alone could be a lifeline for Pope and what he’s trying to do.

Khalifa has soft hands, vision, timing and the basic skill to deliver the ball to teammates.

“What sticks out the most about Aly is his skill level for his size. Being able to use the ball as a real weapon, not only for himself around the basket, but for others, is very rare at 6-11. He makes everyone else better,” BYU assistant coach Nick Robinson told BYUtv.

Khalifa averaged more than 11 points a game and 6.3 rebounds.

“But to average 2.7 assists at 6-11 at all levels is really unique, not to mention his 1.7 to 1.8 turnover to assist ratio is really, really unique.”

Robinson envisions Khalifa making plays out of the post for Johnson, Hall, Robinson, Richie Saunders, Traore and others.

That one thing alone would push BYU basketball closer to what it should be — that 2020 season where so many pieces fit together so well, but COVID-19 cut postseason hopes short after 24 wins.

The Khalifa add appears to be a big one.

And next season against the likes of Texas, Kansas, Houston and Texas Tech, BYU will need Khalifa and much more.

Arkansas forward Trey Wade (3) has his shot blocked by Charlotte defender Aly Khalifa (15) during game Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark. Next season Khalifa will be swatting shots for the Cougars in the Marriott Center. | Michael Woods, Associated Press