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BYU basketball: Cougars are OK with a bubble environment for games if that’s what it takes to play

BYU basketball coach Mark Pope and freshman Caleb Lohner said Thursday that they will take whatever precautions are necessary in order to play games this season.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

BYU freshman basketball player Caleb Lohner’s first year of college has already been memorable, and the Cougars haven’t even played a game yet.

“School is hard” in the middle of a pandemic, Lohner acknowledged Thursday in a Zoom video teleconference with reporters. “We’ve been through a lot already.”

Most classes are held online, robbing students of the valuable one-on-one interactions with professors and tutors. That’s why the first-year player from Mount Pleasant’s Wasatch Academy isn’t too worried that he could be spending the first couple of months of winter semester in Las Vegas, of all places.

John Canzano of the Oregonian reported last week that the West Coast Conference to which BYU belongs is “actively exploring the creation of a bubble/pod in Las Vegas for the upcoming basketball season.” Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports tweeted Sunday that the league “will decide in the next 2-3 weeks” whether or not it will play in a bubble environment like the NBA did when it hosted all its post-shutdown and playoff games at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year.

“Honestly, I am fine with it. I think at the end of the day, we just want to play, and however we can figure out a way to play and be safe through all this, I think we are all in for it,” Lohner said. “So whatever way we can find to start playing games and be safe, that’s always our goal. But I will be fine with a bubble.”

A possible bubble setup in Las Vegas was the first question asked of BYU coach Mark Pope during his weekly press briefing Thursday, and the second-year coach had to choose his words carefully.

“I don’t know what I am allowed to confirm or deny,” he said. “… I know the WCC is exploring every possible option to give us the best chance to get through league play. That’s the truth.”

Later, Pope was pressed about a preferred city if the WCC follows through on the bubble option, and he jokingly offered up the Bahamas as an ideal spot.

“And we could be in a bubble for three weeks, and we could roll out of there lathered up with unbelievable tans, and, you know, drinking nonalcoholic margaritas by the beach at 11 o’clock at night after wins,” he said. “I mean, I am in. Right?”

Pope said for him “it is all about location, location, location,” and if media members would be allowed to watch games in person.

“But let’s just say if the bubble is going to be 72 miles north of Laramie, Wyoming, I am like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that. Let’s just stay here,’” he said.

Pope said he is “super proud” that most college basketball teams and leagues are doing all they can to play.

He said WCC commissioner Gloria Nevarez “is doing an unbelievable job” of exploring possibilities.

“I am sure there are a thousand options that her team has dug into that nobody has reported on, that we don’t even know about,” Pope said. “If we could just actually play with some fans, any number of fans, in the Marriott Center then we would love to have the chance to play some ball games.”

Election Day preparations

Pope said every player on his roster in registered to vote in Tuesday’s election in their home states and communities. Mock ballots were brought in so players could learn firsthand how to fill one out and, of course, sign it properly. Of course, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to embellish the way the coaches got their point across.

Here’s his tongue-in-cheek account:

“We had coach (Chris) Burgess and coach (Cody) Fueger each mock pretend to be one of the presidential candidates and had them do a debate in full costume. It got heated. At one point, one of the guys, his wig actually came off and it came to fisticuffs. But otherwise it was brilliant. We didn’t do that part.”

Lohner stays low-key

Thursday’s Zoom appearance marked the first time Lohner spoke publicly to reporters since the University of Utah released him from his letter of intent on June 15 and he signed with BYU on June 26. The four-star recruit has cut his long, blonde hair and said he is still learning what his role will be this year on a very talented and deep roster with the Cougars.

As for the feedback he has received since making the big decision to leave the Utah program over the summer, Lohner said it has mostly been positive.

“Honestly, I thought I was going to get a lot more backlash and things from the U., but luckily I didn’t get that,” he said. “And I have gotten nothing but support from Day 1 from the entire BYU basketball family, the staff, the players, all the fans across the United States. So it has been really good. I really didn’t have any problems with that, so I was lucky. And very grateful.”