A couple of weeks before BYU’s basketball season tipped off, senior guard Alex Barcello was asked what his expectations were for center Richard Harward, who redshirted last season.
“Get every rebound in sight. He is so strong. He’s an unbelievable teammate — like what he did last year in his redshirt year, how he hyped (forward) Kolby (Lee) up. He’d be screaming every single play that Kolby would make,” Barcello said. “He was his biggest fan on the bench. It just speaks to his character and who he is as a teammate. He’s a guy you want on your team. He’s going to battle for you every single day. He’s going to put his body out there, dive on the floor. Most bigs don’t do that. He’s going to try to get every rebound. He’s a great finisher. He brings energy. I have high expectations for him. He’s a great dude and an even better teammate.”
Those attributes and skills were on display during the Cougars’ 82-64 victory over Utah Saturday at the Marriott Center. In 20 minutes of action against the Utes, Harward scored a season-high 15 points, hit 7 of 7 shots from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds.
The 6-foot-11, 255-pound junior from Orem has settled into his role coming off the bench for BYU. He’s averaging 4.6 rebounds and 5.9 points per game this season. He’s made 18 of 25 field goals.
The Cougars (6-2) visit No. 18 San Diego State, which has posted a 5-0 record this season, Friday (3 p.m. MST, CBSSN) at Viejas Arena.
It’s taken Harward quite a while to get into a position to produce for the Cougars. After his career at Orem High, Harward enrolled at Utah Valley University, where he gained confidence and earned coach Mark Pope’s trust.
Harward eventually followed Pope to BYU, then sat out last season due to transfer rules.
“During my redshirt year, I put a lot of focus into developing my body and my footspeed. I’ve always been the bigger guy, kind of the bruiser,” he said. “So I put a focus on being able to develop my body and still be able to bruise but at the same time being able to move my feet quicker, being able to be more explosive on defense.”
In the process of growing his game, Harward credited assistant coach Chris Burgess.
“Coach Burgess has done an amazing job of getting us to develop our offensive abilities, to make consistent post moves and being able to kick out to a guard because our guys are fantastic shooters,” he said. “That’s the thing I’m hyped about — my game being able to do things on offense, be really solid on defense and being able to trust the guards and kick it out so they can hit the 3.”
So far this season, Harward has recorded nine assists.
One of the Cougars’ weaknesses this season has been a lack of second-chance points. Against Utah, he produced a handful of key put-backs for BYU, including three in a three-minute stretch early in the second half.
Pope said Harward has been bringing intensity and energy to the team since last season, even before he could contribute on the floor. This season, during preseason practices, the Cougars were participating in a drill. At the time, Harward was subbed out and his team had a chance to win that session with a defensive stop.
“Rich is on the baseline, jumping up and down, screaming. They get the stop and he gives Matt Haarms a giant hug,” Pope recalled. “We’ve been doing two-a-days for three straight weeks and everyone’s walking around in a fog. We’re still two weeks away from our first game and Rich is bringing that intensity and joy for the game onto the floor.”
Harward’s ability to encourage his teammates may be his best asset, according to Pope.
“If you talk about the greatest thing he does for our team, he’s the greatest teammate. That is such a huge deal,” he said. “Basketball-wise, he’s such a physical presence. He’s unbelievable on the offensive glass. He takes up a ton of space defensively. He’s got really, really good feet in ball-screen defense and switching defense where he can keep guys in front of him and use his body. He’s been great for us defensively. He’s running the floor really hard. I’ve been super pleased with him. He’s been terrific. All that stuff is important but the stuff that makes us go, our special sauce, is being a great locker room and he’s the leader of that deal.”