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Within days, BYU star receiver Kody Epps and the NCAA’s top women’s basketball rebounder, Cougar Lauren Gustin, both entered the transfer portal only to quickly change their minds and remain at BYU. These are crazy times and one can’t help but wonder if NIL money was a factor. The Epps news rocked the BYU football community and was totally unexpected. Dave McCann breaks down the surprising move to the portal by the beloved Cougars receiver here and how he later decided to stay at BYU here.

When news broke that Epps had entered the portal, I wished him success; he’s a great guy. BYU had reaped key players from Utah State, Boise State, SUU, Oklahoma State, Pitt, UNLV and Weber State, so what comes around goes around, I figured. He’s a quality player and person and BYU is lucky he had a change of heart and decided to stay at BYU.

Within two days of the Epps news, BYU signed a 6-foot-4 WR transfer from Eastern Michigan whose father was a 10-year NFL veteran. Kalani Sitake and his staff quickly reacted.

Cougar Insiders predictions

Question of the week: How do you evaluate Mark Pope and his staff on transfer portal work so far? (Jay Drew is on vacation, his contributions will continue later this month.)

Dave McCann: The college basketball transfer portal closes May 11, leaving just over a week for Mark Pope and his staff to scour the available undergraduates for reinforcements as BYU joins the Big 12. Grad students can enter the portal and transfer any time.

So far Pope has addressed a pair of glaring needs, size down low and outside scoring. UC Irvine transfer Dawson Baker can help with the wing production. The 6-4 guard averaged 15.3 points last season and when compared to the Cougars’ production, the returned Latter-day Saint missionary would have been BYU’s leading scorer.

Aly Khalifa, at 6-11, was an early portal target by Pope and his staff, and his arrival from Charlotte should allow BYU to move 6-foot-6 Fousseyni Traore out of the center position and away from a constant double-team in the paint.

Even while undersized, Traore carried both the scoring (12.9) and rebounding (7.8) load last season. The arrival of Khalifa, the “Egyptian Magician,” won’t make Traore’s challenges disappear, but it will allow him to attack differently. Atiki Ally Atiki also stands to be a major benefactor. 

With the physicality of the Big 12, the search for size will be a year-round quest for Pope and his staff. To their credit, landing Khalifa and the outside shooting of Baker appear to meet BYU’s immediate needs.

Dick Harmon: BYU was about to enter a Grand Prix race with a Ford Escort — that was before some recent additions through the transfer portal. Now, it’s a Kia Stinger. The Big 12 requires physicality inside the paint and outstanding shooting. I think signing Dawson Baker, a 46% 3-point shooter, and 6-11 Aly Khalifa from Charlotte, a 38% shooter from distance, is a huge upgrade.

It will be a huge challenge to play the likes of Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor and Houston in the Big 12, a feat BYU’s program has never had to face in its history. But the Cougars do have a track record of competency with contenders UNLV, New Mexico, Arizona, UCLA, Notre Dame and many others, albeit on a piecemeal basis with success.

If I were to center on just one aspect of these acquisitions, it would be shooting prowess. While Khalifa and Dawson bring other skills, the fact they can shoot from distance will change the way teams defend the Cougars and open up other shooters on the squad. Will it be enough? No, but it is a great start and Pope may not be finished yet with the May 11 deadline looming. For the record, Pope did get one of the top point guards in the transfer portal to visit last week, Samford’s Ques Glover, who committed to BYU on Wednesday, and earlier added shooting guard Dawson Baker from UC Irvine.

Cougar tales

BYU’s golf team won the WCC championship on a storied course in Washington last week. The Cougars did it with a team comprised of Utah high school golf stars: read my report here

In last weekend’s NFL draft, three Cougars were drafted and QB Jaren Hall made NFL history with his pick by the Vikings. 

From the archives

Related
Big 12-bound BYU continues NFL draft momentum with 3 players taken in first 5 rounds
Is the Wild West that is the NCAA transfer portal good or bad for college football?

From the Twitterverse

Extra points

Fanalyst

Comments from Desert News readers:

1 - Did Epps enter the transfer portal within the proper time frame? Yes, he followed the rules.

2 - Did another school offer him a bigger NIL deal? Chances are they did not, but a booster from another school is allowed to do so.

Epps seems to have followed the rules and is under no obligation to tell anyone else his plans. Coaches leave at the drop of a hat and no one expects them to justify their decisions.

Good luck and thanks for the memories, you owe nothing to no one.

— Turtles Run

Congratulations to all the BYU players who got drafted. It should be noted that all three players have landed in ideal situations (need, coaching, culture, etc.) where they’ll have maximum chance of succeeding. That’s not always the case. (Example — Zach Wilson).

Congratulations also to the several other players who have landed free agent contracts — Chris Brooks, Kaleb Hayes, Harris LaChance and D’Angelo Mandell.

Congratulations should also go out to Kalani and the BYU staff who are clearly doing an awesome job of getting guys into the NFL. They have established a winning culture that excels at finding overlooked stars and maximizing player potential. They will need to continue that formula in order to have success at the P5 level.

— befair

Up next

May 4-6 | 7 p.m., 1 p.m. | Baseball | vs. San Diego | @San Diego, California
May 5-6 | 5 and 7 p.m., 1 p.m. | Softball | vs. Pacific | @Provo

BYU forward Lauren Gustin and Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Yvonne Ejim reach for at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Gustin tested the transfer portal waters before deciding to return to BYU. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News