Not long after BYU’s season ended, coach Mark Pope said he and his staff would be aggressive in the transfer portal.

“The beautiful side of the transfer portal is that guys get another chance at being where they want to be. You learn so much about what you care about.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

Well, true to Pope’s word, the Cougars have been aggressive, pursuing a host of players in the portal. They’ve landed Charlotte transfer Aly Khalifa, a 6-foot-11 center from Egypt, UC Irvine transfer guard Dawson Baker, and on Wednesday, Samford guard Ques Glover.

Khalifa fills some crucial needs for BYU — he’s a 3-point shooter that can finish at the rim and an adept passer. He’s a dynamic playmaker known as the “Egyptian Magician.” 

Last season, Khalifa averaged 11.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He was a Conference USA honorable mention performer and helped the 49ers capture the CBI postseason tournament. 

Baker, a 6-foot-4, 190-pounder from Coto de Caza, California, averaged 15.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. He shot 46.7% from the field, including 36.9% from 3-point territory. Baker served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Micronesia, Guam. 

Glover meanwhile, began his career at Florida, and his one year of eligibility remain as a graduate transfer. Glover averaged 14.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last year for the Bulldogs.

The additions of Khalifa, Dawson and Glover are a positive development for the Cougars, who are heading into the Big 12 next season

How has BYU fared in recent years in the transfer portal?

Pope’s track record in the transfer portal

Since he became a head coach, starting with Utah Valley University from 2015-19, Pope has relied heavily on the transfer portal.

At BYU, the transfer portal has yielded mixed results.

In Pope’s first season, in 2019-20, he hit a grand slam, bringing in Jake Toolson, Richard Harward and Wyatt Lowell with him from UVU and then signing Arizona transfer Alex Barcello. Moreover, he convinced Yoeli Childs to return for his senior season.

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As it turned out, the Cougars posted a 24-8 record and a No. 18 final ranking. BYU was poised to earn a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament before the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. 

Toolson, in his second tour of duty at BYU, was sensational in his final season of collegiate eligibility. Childs, despite missing a bunch of games due to an NCAA suspension and an injury, averaged 22.2 points and nine rebounds per game. 

Barcello was a three-year starter for the Cougars and was hailed by ESPN’s Jay Bilas in 2021 as the best shooter in the country. As a team, BYU led the nation in 3-point shooting in 2020.

After redshirting in 2019-20, Harward showed promise as a junior but missed the 2021-22 season due to a heart condition. Lowell suffered an Achilles injury and ended up transferring. 

In Pope’s second season, the Cougars attracted national attention when they picked up 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms from Purdue. UVU guard Brandon Averette also joined the Cougars that season and BYU ended up going to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed. Haarms was named the WCC Defensive Player of the Year. 

In 2021, BYU landed Milwaukee guard Te’Jon Lucas and San Jose State/LSU wing Seneca Knight. Lucas was solid but he dealt with injuries, while Knight had an decent campaign before transferring. 

Last season, the Cougars added Coastal Carolina/Kansas State guard Rudi Williams; Texas A&M/Arkansas guard Jaxson Robinson and Detroit Mercy forward Noah Waterman.

Williams, who had one year of eligibility remaining, struggled early with turnovers and lost his starting job. But he became one of three players in program history to score 25 or more points off the bench three times in a single season. 

There are high expectations for Robinson, who has a couple more years of eligibility remaining. He showed promise while averaging 8.5 points per game. Waterman was advertised as a strong 3-point shooter but he shot just 32% from distance. 

Overall, Pope’s last two transfer classes have lacked consistency and the type of impact the Cougars needed.  

But Pope has been consistent when it comes to going after high-profile, ultra-talented players in the transfer portal over the years that chose to play elsewhere. 

And BYU was seriously considered by Mac McClung (who went from Georgetown to Texas Tech); Antoine Davis (who ended up remaining at Detroit Mercy, where he finished his career with 3,664 points); Cam Shelton (who went from Northern Arizona to Loyola Marymount); and Izaiah Brockington (who went from Penn State to Iowa State). This spring, Utah State guard Steven Ashworth included BYU in his final five schools before ultimately choosing Creighton.

‘The beautiful side’ of the transfer portal

Of course, there are a lot of ways to view the transfer portal. Players are free to find better situations for themselves, just as coaches have been doing for decades.

“The beautiful side of the transfer portal is that guys get another chance at being where they want to be. You learn so much about what you care about,” Pope said. “When you recruit high school players, it’s not their fault, but they have no idea what they actually care about because they don’t know what a college experience is like. You get there and you learn about what you think you care about. And you get to do it firsthand. I do like the freedom of student-athletes to make choices.”

On the other hand, what about lessons in perseverance and living up to a commitment? 

“When it’s so easy, when your answer for difficulty is to go somewhere new, I do think there’s no doubt that you lose the experience of things going bad and having to fight through it and actually make it good.” — Mark Pope on the transfer portal

“I do feel like the transfer portal is complicated. I’m going to sound super old school here. When it’s so easy, when your answer for difficulty is to go somewhere new, I do think there’s no doubt that you lose the experience of things going bad and having to fight through it and actually make it good,” Pope said. “What you lose in that is the opportunity to do something you didn’t know you could do.

“ … When you come out the other end and have success, you can’t almost believe it yourself. It changes you in the process. There’s a balance. The NCAA says they’re going to crack down on the waivers. We’ll see if they hold firm on that. I tend to feel like there is some benefit about allowing them to fight through it and experience coming out the other side.” 

Another perspective on the transfer portal

Former BYU coach Dave Rose is glad that he doesn’t have to deal with the transfer portal. He retired after the 2019 season. 

“I could blackmail probably 20 guys and tell their ADs how much they hate being the coach now,” he said. “But they all make so much money, they want to keep doing it. It is so hard for them to coach their teams knowing these kids can leave at any time. I feel for them.”

For Rose, it’s reminiscent of when he started coaching at then-Dixie College in the 1990s. Different players had different scholarship arrangements. It’s similar to the way it is now with name, image and likeness, as players can now capitalize on endorsement and marketing opportunities.

“All my players were on different scholarships. Some guys had tuition waivers, some guys on tuition and fees, other guys tuition, fees and books. Meal tickets for some guys,” Rose recalled. “It was every gamut for those 15 guys I had on the team. Very few were receiving the same amount.

“You’d get them for whatever you could get them for and stay within your budget. That’s what it’s turned into now. Every guy is on a different deal. One guy might be on a $20,000 deal from one place and another guy might be on a $100,000 deal. An arrangement has been worked out. Once they find out in the middle of the year … Those guys figure out what everybody’s making and it’s going to be hard to coach that team. That’s for sure.” 

Once again, it’s going to be intriguing to watch Pope integrate his new transfer portal players to his roster. And this time, even more is at stake as BYU enters the Big 12.

BYU coach Mark Pope yells out instructions as BYU and Saint Mary’s play at the Marriott Center in Provo, Jan. 28, 2023.
BYU coach Mark Pope yells out instructions as BYU and Saint Mary’s play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News