BYU freshman Caleb Lohner’s development is happening in real time, a day at a time.

Coach Mark Pope is counting on the experience that the 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward from Dallas, Texas, is receiving will pay off now — and in the future. 

Lohner, and his trademark long, curly, blond hair, has started four of the Cougars’ seven games this season and is averaging a team-high 6.3 rebounds, and 4.7 points, in 19 minutes per game. 

“Caleb’s really fun to coach right now. The great thing about Caleb is there’s nothing undisclosed. He’s just throwing his whole self out there on the floor for good and for young,” Pope said. “He’s obviously got a terrific upside and he’s got a lot of things he’s got to learn right now. But I love his defensive effort right now. He has a chance to grow into an exceptional defensive force.” 

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The long road to BYU: Why Caleb Lohner ultimately chose the Cougars over Utah

Lohner’s next challenge is facing the school he originally signed with — Utah — Saturday (4 p.m. MST, BYUtv) at the Marriott Center. 

Lohner committed to the Utes in August 2019, and signed in November 2019, before having a change of heart and receiving a release from the school. Last summer, he signed with the Cougars. 

As the son of a former BYU basketball player, Matt Lohner, Caleb grew up a Cougar fan. While playing at Wasatch Academy, Caleb was considering BYU but when Dave Rose retired and Pope was hired during the spring of 2019, he didn’t know Pope very well. After visiting Utah’s campus, Lohner chose to play for the Utes.

BYU forward Caleb Lohner shoots during game against Utah State Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Logan, Utah. Lohner is averaging a team-high 6.3 rebounds, and 4.7 points, in 19 minutes per game for the Cougars as a true freshman. | Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP

But as time went on, Lohner noticed what was going on at BYU in Pope’s inaugural season and he wanted to be a part of it. 

“My dad still follows BYU closely, and yeah, it’s hard not to notice everything going on there,” Lohner told the Deseret News last summer. “It’s hard not to be impressed with the style of play and just all the enthusiasm there.” 

How does Lohner’s departure sit with Utah? 

“Truthfully, I could (not) care less. If somebody doesn’t want to be a part of this program, that’s not my concern,” Ute forward Timmy Allen said this week. “He’s at BYU now, so it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter to us. If you are not a part of us, we don’t really care. So, it will be fun to go against him and BYU, though.”

What impact did Lohner jilting Utah have on the program? 

“I spent months and months thinking Caleb was going to be a part of it,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “With the anticipation of coming to summer school and getting the process started, and I have never really thought that anybody was more excited about getting started with their college career.”

“I spent months and months thinking Caleb was going to be a part of it. With the anticipation of coming to summer school and getting the process started, and I have never really thought that anybody was more excited about getting started with their college career.” — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak

But things changed when Krystkowiak received a phone call while on vacation in Montana, informing him that Lohner wasn’t going to enroll in school. 

“I just want guys that want to be here. And if he felt like for some reason that at the last minute there was a better place for him, I think that is the direction college basketball is going in, I think we are going to see transfers not having to sit,” Krystkowiak said. “So I am just going to pick my battles and know that I would much rather find out a day before he was supposed to come to campus that he didn’t want to be here than finding out three months after.

“So I kind of take that mindset. I could have really tried to upset some things, and dried some things out, but we are in the middle of this COVID time. I think it fits the mantra that you control the things you can control, and to me that was one of those things that we can’t control, and I wanted to focus my attention on the players that you are going to see in a Ute uniform on Saturday and move on.”

While he feels at home at BYU, Lohner’s transition to college basketball has had some rough patches. For example, he missed his first 11 3-pointers of the season before knocking down 3 of 4 in the Cougars’ win over Utah State last Saturday. He went 0-for-4 from the field, and 0-for-3 from 3, in BYU’s 74-70 loss to Boise State on Wednesday.

Wasatch Academy’s Caleb Lohner during game against Oak Hill in a boys quarterfinal game at the Geico High School Basketball Nationals in the Queens borough of New York on Thursday, April 4, 2019. | AP Photo/Gregory Payan

Overall, Lohner is shooting 11 of 40 from the field, 3 of 20 from 3-point range, and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line. He’s had 11 turnovers and seven steals. 

Meanwhile, his ability to rebound has been a boon for BYU. 

“I love him on the glass right now. He learned a lot of lessons in the Utah State game about rebounding from Justin Bean, who’s one of the most surprisingly effective guys on the glass in the country,” Pope said. “He got to see that firsthand and hopefully walk away with some insights.

“Offensively, he’s going to continue to be a work in progress. Not because he’s not incredibly talented but because the way we play is pretty complicated and it takes some time to digest so you’re not thinking about it anymore.”

Lohner is acclimating well to BYU and he’s made a positive impression on his teammates, who enjoy playing with him. 

“It’s so fun. Caleb is hilarious. He’s just a fun guy to be around,” said guard Brandon Averette. “When he got his first 3, we all felt joy for him on the team. Having a guy like that in your locker room makes it fun every single day. I love Caleb.” 

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Pope is looking forward to watching Lohner’s continued development. 

“We’re really excited about him,” he said. “He has a ton of joy that he brings to the court every day, a youthful enthusiasm that’s really contagious and a toughness and physicality that’s going to be special for us this year and years to come.” 

Lohner’s talents and attributes once looked like they were headed to Utah. Now, they’re at BYU.

Contributing: Jay Drew

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