PROVO — Given all the setbacks it has been dealt — the latest being star forward Yoeli Childs’ dislocated index finger — the BYU basketball team is clearly exceeding expectations this season.

A big reason why is the play of Jake Toolson, the graduate transfer from Utah Valley who returned to BYU for his final season of eligibility after beginning his college career in Provo.

And a big reason why Toolson is back at BYU is because assistant coach Cody Fueger (pronounced: FEE-ger) is back at BYU.

“Absolutely. Yeah, for sure,” said Toolson, the 2018-19 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year who is averaging 14.9 points, 4.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game for the 13-5 Cougars. “I think he is the man. We have been through so much together already. I wanted to finish with him and with the people who I have been through the grind with. So yeah, I would say he’s a huge reason why I’m back here.”

Toolson first became acquainted with Fueger when he arrived at BYU the first time, in 2014, and Fueger was coach Dave Rose’s director of basketball operations. They became fast friends, even kindred spirits, Toolson said.

“He is one of my best friends and somebody that has been there through a lot of the ups and downs of this journey,” Toolson said. “He is a great man, a great father, a great role model and example. All those type of things. But the thing I like the most about him is he is a great friend. He’s a guy that I can trust and can rely on.”

Meet the most unknown member of new BYU coach Mark Pope’s coaching staff, a boyish-looking basketball junkie who followed Pope from Utah Valley University without the fanfare that accompanied the other two assistants — former Utah and Duke player Chris Burgess and former Stanford player and Southern Utah University head coach Nick Robinson.

But Pope says that while Fueger is not as famous as the other two, he’s just as important to the success he enjoyed at UVU, and now at BYU.

“I am just the front man for what Cody obviously does,” Pope said. “He is an unbelievable coach. We are lucky to have him. We have been able to enjoy a lot of success as a staff in general the past five years, and a large part of that is due to Cody’s contributions.”

And it is not just Toolson who loves this guy. Fellow senior guard TJ Haws, who had a phenomenal performance in BYU’s 96-70 win over Portland last Saturday — a career-high 14 assists and 13 points with no turnovers — said Fueger combines basketball passion with an enjoyable personality.

“He is very well-prepared,” Haws said. “Whoever we are playing, he has so many details on guys and their tendencies. He is here all the time, so you can really trust in the things that he is saying. And he is fun to be around, too, so that helps.”

So who is this guy who looks barely older than the players themselves but has “paid his dues,” according to Pope, for 18 seasons on the sidelines in various regions of the country?

“I’m just a guy who loves the game and loves to coach,” Fueger said.

That love has taken him to six schools, seven if you count his two stops at BYU. Along the way he’s worked for some of the top head coaches in the country, including Utah’s Rick Majerus, Louisiana Tech’s Kerry Rupp, Utah State’s Stew Morrill, UC Riverside’s Jim Woolridge and Rose at BYU.

Fueger’s relationship with Majerus is what first brought him to Utah. The Milwaukee native attended Majerus’ camps at Cardinal Strich University as a youngster and then helped coach at the camps for three years after he turned 15.

Majerus asked him to walk on at Utah, but he was “too cheap to do that” because he didn’t want to pay out-of-state tuition, so he instead accepted a basketball manager scholarship and joined Utah’s staff in 2002 as a student assistant coach and video coordinator. He’s been in coaching ever since.

“That’s how I got started in the business; I knew I wanted to coach,” Fueger said. “I was with coach Majerus all day, every day, 24-7, for a couple of years. I was lucky to be able to do that.”

Fueger met former BYU assistant Tim LaComb while at Utah, and the two eventually reunited in Provo when Fueger got the ops job in 2013 under Rose.

Having worked at Utah and Utah State, Fueger said it wasn’t difficult at all to join the so-called enemy.

“I got to know coach Rose a little bit, and I knew Tim LaComb really well and followed his career,” Fueger said. “So I was always kind of cheering for them. But growing up in Wisconsin, it is not like I had a deep hate for BYU or anything like that. So yeah, it wasn’t too hard.”

When Pope left Rose’s staff in 2015, he gave Fueger his first opportunity to be an assistant coach, at UVU. Fueger was one of the top candidates to get the job at UVU when Pope replaced Rose at BYU last spring, but when the job went to former Los Angeles Lakers player and assistant coach Mark Madsen, Fueger followed Pope to Provo.

“Coach Pope has been instrumental to me for so long, helping me out with everything,” Fueger said. “He gives me a lot of say, a lot of opportunities. He has let me make a huge imprint on both of his programs. I owe so much to him. We have an incredible relationship. He’s been a great mentor to me. It is a great relationship. I have all the trust in the world in him.”

Although he’s not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns and operates BYU, Fueger said it hasn’t been an issue. In fact, he believes that nonmember status helped him recruit starting guard Alex Barcello, who also isn’t LDS, to BYU because he could relate to the Arizona transfer’s experiences in an unfamiliar culture.

“Who doesn’t want to be in a program where they don’t want to have to worry about their teammates out partying?” Fueger said. “They are only focused on winning here, and doing it right. So it has been awesome to work for BYU.”

Before arriving at BYU the first time, Fueger and his wife, Danielle, a teacher at nearby Rock Canyon Elementary, had moved five times in four years. Only recently did they make their first move within Utah County, while also welcoming a new baby to their family that also includes daughter Isabella and son Andrew.

“These past seven years have been incredible,” Fueger concluded.

Cody Fueger’s college basketball coaching journey

2002-2007 — Video coordinator, student assistant coach, University of Utah

2007-11 — Director of basketball operations, Louisiana Tech

2011-12 — Director of basketball operations, UC Riverside

2012-13 — Director of basketball operations, Utah State

2013-15 — Director of basketball operations, BYU

2015-19 — Assistant coach, Utah Valley University

2019-present — Assistant coach, BYU