Jake Wahlin was seemingly destined to be a BYU Cougar.

His father Rick played football for BYU. His sister Malery, a former BYU volleyball player, married former BYU receiver Colby Pearson. Another sister, Cassidy, married former BYU linebacker Harvey Langi.

“I think I just had a change of heart on my mission, and just kinda wanted to open things up as far as my recruitment goes. A lot of things change over two years, so I just wanted to open things up again.” — new Utah basketball signee Jake Wahlin, a former BYU signee

So when the product of Provo’s Timpview High became one of the tallest youngsters in a neighborhood close to campus, somewhere in the 6-foot-8 range, it was pretty much assumed that he would sign with BYU’s basketball team.

That he did, committing to Cougars’ coach Mark Pope in September 2020 and signing two months later, just before his senior season with the Thunderbirds.

But in the final days of his two-year mission to Lithuania for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the now 6-10 Wahlin signed with not just another school, but the rival Utah Utes.

While vacationing in St. George with his family — which includes his former AAU traveling circuit coach Tim Davis of the Utah Prospects, who is another of his prominent brothers-in-law and who has been working out with him two or three times a day — Wahlin told the Deseret News Tuesday why he flipped from blue to red.

“I think I just had a change of heart on my mission, and just kinda wanted to open things up as far as my recruitment goes,” he said. “A lot of things change over two years, so I just wanted to open things up again.”

That opening didn’t last long. Six days after Wahlin arrived home on May 16, he announced via social media that he had committed to the Utes, and hours later a school news release confirmed the signing — which had actually taken place on May 8, when Wahlin was still abroad, according to vanquishthefoe.com.

“Jake is a tremendous competitor who comes from a great family and is just scratching the surface of the player he can become,” Utes coach Craig Smith said. “Standing at 6-10, Jake brings skill and versatility at the wing position that you just don’t see at his size.

“I have no doubt that Jake will be a fan favorite among the Runnin’ Ute faithful here at the U. for the next four years.”

Wahlin said there wasn’t one specific reason, or one specific moment on his mission when he decided he wasn’t going back to BYU. Rather, “it was just a gradual sort of watching how things were going,” he said.

“I just eventually decided to do it, which was very difficult,” he said. “But I did decide (during his mission) that I wanted to look for a possible better fit, and I found it.”

Wahlin said he “still has a lot of respect for BYU and their program and coaches, but yeah, I am pretty stoked to play for the U. and play for coach Smith. I love Craig Smith, and Chris Burgess, of course.”

Burgess, as has been well-documented, recruited Wahlin to BYU when he was an assistant there. He joined Smith’s staff a year ago, and since then has recruited former BYU guard Hunter Erickson from Salt Lake Community to Utah and now, Wahlin.

From red to blue to red: Chris Burgess’ journey back to his alma mater from its biggest rival

“Coach Burgess was a big factor in me going to BYU,” Wahlin said. “I have a great relationship with him. When I had to open up my recruitment and decide what would be best for me, of course I kept in mind him being up at Utah.”

But it is the head coach who ultimately calls the shots in making scholarship offers, and Wahlin says his familiarity with Smith dated back to the third-year Utes’ coach’s time at Utah State.

“To be honest, Craig Smith and I already had a really, really great relationship from my high school recruitment when he was at Utah State,” Wahlin said. “I would say he probably recruited me the hardest out of any head coach. Back then he told me, ‘I am going to text you and call you every single day until you are an Aggie.’ So that was hard to say no to him and be true to BYU (back then).

“But I am thankful now that it has worked out and I can play for (Smith), because he truly believes in me and I feel it in my heart.”

Former BYU signee Jake Wahlin returns from mission, signs with Utah

Wahlin said BYU coaches were “cool about it” when he told them a while ago that he was going elsewhere after his mission.

“It is hard, because as a missionary there is a lot of thinking you do about what is best for you and your future, and they were great. They had respect,” he said. “Yeah, everything went well with that.”

Wahlin’s flip could be more than just one loss for BYU’s program. He and four-star BYU signee Collin Chandler, who has one more year left on his mission (he’s been in Sierra Leone, Washington, D.C., and now London), are close friends, and had talked pre-missions about being roommates at BYU.

Could Chandler, the Farmington High product who was the No. 28 prospect in the 2022 signing class, according to ESPN, follow his buddy to Utah?

Wahlin didn’t want to speculate on that, but it is certainly not a far-fetched scenario considering that Chandler was originally believed to be leaning toward Utah before BYU grabbed him late — with considerable recruiting done by the since-departed Burgess.

As for Wahlin, he figures he grew 1 to 2 inches on his mission, confirming Smith’s announcement that he’s now 6-10 “with my shoes on” and has put on about 20 pounds after being in the 195-pound range when he left two years ago.

Wahlin said he played quite a bit of basketball on his mission, and not just on preparation day, which came once a week.

‘Their system fits me better’: Why Colorado transfer Lawson Lovering picked the Runnin’ Utes

“Even during normal days during the week, we had permission to try and contact and make new friends just playing basketball in parks and at local universities,” he said. “So that was actually a big part of my mission. I really loved that.”

Wahlin is the fifth newcomer to Utah’s roster, joining the aforementioned Erickson, who signed last November, and transfers Deivon Smith (Mississippi State/Georgia Tech), Cole Bajema (Washington) and Lawson Lovering (Colorado).

The Utes are scheduled to host BYU on Dec. 9, a game that Wahlin says will be “significant,” for obvious reasons.

“I hope there won’t be … bad blood,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I am not going to have a little chip on my shoulder and extra desire to beat them. Of course, that is going to be one of the biggest games for me my first year.

“It is obvious I come from a big BYU family, but this was my decision and my family is supportive and they are all really happy for me that I have found the place that I want to play and so right now, yeah, as far as that specific game goes, it is 100% we will want to win that game,” he continued.

“But that’s not to say I am not rooting for (BYU) in other games. I have friends on that team. But yeah, I am all-in with the Utes now and I am just excited to finally be a Runnin’ Ute.”