One, Alex Barcello, is known as “AB.” The other, Brandon Averette, is called “BA.” Both are seniors on BYU’s basketball team and they play the same position — point guard.
Some Cougars fans are referring to the pair as “ABBA,” like the name of the Swedish pop group that produced huge hits in the 1970s, such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me” and “The Winner Takes It All.”
“One of the directions that I think we’ll spend a lot of time going in is playing two point guards. You see several teams in the league that are doing that now. It’s so difficult, especially when you have playmakers that are as lethal as they are.” — BYU coach Mark Pope
Coach Mark Pope is definitely hoping this talented, and experienced, backcourt leads his team to plenty of winning in 2020-21.
“Alex Barcello and Brandon Averette are going to be a really special duo,” Pope said after BYU’s first official day of practice Wednesday. “One of the directions that I think we’ll spend a lot of time going in is playing two point guards. You see several teams in the league that are doing that now. It’s so difficult, especially when you have playmakers that are as lethal as they are. You saw that all night long.”
Barcello joined the program during the summer of 2019 after transferring from the University of Arizona. About a year ago, he received a waiver from the NCAA, which allowed him to play last season. BYU’s leading returning scorer averaged 9.3 points and shot 48.6% from 3-point range.
A year ago, the Cougars had other proven offensive options like Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws and Jake Toolson. This season, Barcello will have more opportunities to have the ball in his hands and score points. And he’s more familiar with Pope’s system.
“I feel extremely comfortable. Last year we had a lot of playmakers on the team. A lot of them have left but we still have a lot of great players on this team,” Barcello said. “I’ve put in the work that I’ve needed but I have more work to put in.
“You can never be complacent. I’m trying to walk into this gym every day and give it everything that I have. It’s my last season of college and I want to go out with a bang,” he continued. “I want to continue this BYU way that we approach the game and the mentality that we bring. What sums it all up in one word is winning.”
As the only senior returning from last season’s team, Barcello has a larger leadership responsibility placed on his shoulders. Early during Wednesday’s evening practice session, the 6-foot-2 native of Chandler, Arizona, drew a couple of charges, exemplifying his ability to lead, and be a playmaker, on both ends of the court.
“I’m always trying to step into that leadership role this year, trying to make my team better, trying to make plays on the defensive end,” he said. “That’s what coach Pope stresses, always making a play on the defensive end. That translates to offense. Any way I can contribute to that, I just want to give it my all for these guys because that’s what each one of them do.”
So how will Barcello play in tandem with Averette? Both enjoy playing a fast-paced style.
“We love to push the ball in transition,” Barcello said. “We’ll try to make the best play possible, the smartest play, whether that’s making a quick pass in transition or keeping our dribble alive.”
Averette, a 5-11 grad transfer, started his career at Oklahoma State before transferring to Utah Valley University. He redshirted during Pope’s final season at UVU. Last season, Averette averaged 12.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists for the Wolverines.
“I’m a guy who knows how to create and I love playing fast — that’s my strength,” Averette told the Deseret News last summer. “I’m just a competitor and I like to say I can do a bit of everything, which includes a focus on defense. It’s something I’ve focused on my entire career — just being a strong defender and I pride myself on my defense.”
When Toolson was playing for UVU, before his transfer to BYU, he faced Averette every day in practice.
“BA was the best player on our UVU team 2 years ago during his redshirt — and it wasn’t even close,” Toolson tweeted after Averette signed with the Cougars.
Toolson believes Averette will make a big impact on BYU basketball this year.
“He’s got all of the talent and skill and work ethic. It’s all about opportunity and the guys that are around you and the culture,” Toolson told the Deseret News last summer. “BYU checks all the boxes for him to have a huge season. We got (Matt) Haarms and we have younger guys coming back. But we needed a playmaker, a ballhandler, a shot-creator to be able to balance out the backcourt with BA. He’s another player that can get buckets. He does it all.”
One of the keys to the Cougars’ success — will BYU fans be singing “The Winner Takes It All” this season? — rest in the hands of their “ABBA” backcourt.