PROVO — As the calendar flips to the month of May, the 2020-21 BYU basketball roster is coming more sharply into focus.

The Cougars recently added 7-foot-3 rim-protector Matt Haarms, a grad transfer from Purdue and a player widely considered the biggest prize of the available fifth-year seniors from around the country.

The addition of Haarms changes the complexion of BYU’s roster due to his size and experience. 

Meanwhile, the coaching staff still has one more scholarship available and it is scouring the transfer portal for a guard that could add depth and scoring. 

“We reach out to everybody in the portal that we think could fit for us. We have to cast a really broad net,” said coach Mark Pope. “We’re probably still interested in another player in the backcourt — a veteran guy who’s got some experience and some athleticism. We’re always thinking about adding quality, shooting, depth and heart.”

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As promising as this group of newcomers to the program is — which also includes recent signees Spencer Johnson and Gideon George — Pope acknowledged there’s still a lot to do before next season tips off. 

“Anytime you lose seven seniors, you have a lot of work to do. Not just seven seniors but historically good senior players,” Pope said, referring to Yoeli Childs, Jake Toolson, TJ Haws, Dalton Nixon, Zac Seljaas, Evan Troy and Taylor Maughan. “We always want to stay as old as we can. It’s something that matters to us. We look around at the league that we have to compete in and (the Gonzaga Bulldogs), they have one of the best frontlines in the country. They have everybody back and healthy for next year. Clearly, that’s a place where we need to grow.”

“We’re hoping that next season we can have great depth. That makes for special teams. That’s where we’re trying to grow. We need some young players to make huge strides.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

Pope is trying to improve his team’s depth. A pair of Utah Valley University transfers, 6-10 Wyatt Lowell and 6-11 Richard Harward, and 6-9 Gavin Baxter, who missed much of last season with a shoulder injury, will help in that regard by providing considerable size to the Cougars frontline. 

“We’re hoping that next season we can have great depth. That makes for special teams. That’s where we’re trying to grow. We need some young players to make huge strides,” Pope said. “I have huge expectations for Wyatt Lowell and Gavin Baxter. I need (Baxter’s) game to grow exponentially and he’s hungry right now … This Richard Harward is going to definitely have a massive impact on our game. He’s going to be really good.”

Because of its size, BYU could play a lot of zone defense next season and its rebounding production should be better. 

“I have coached zone defense before in a change-of-pace way at times. It’s not a place where I’ve lived. But certainly, it’s hard to look at our roster and not say, hey, you’ve got to at least make that a part of what you do with the length we have,” Pope said. “It allows us to be incredibly long and incredibly deep.

“(Last season) we were scratching and clawing just to stay alive on the defensive glass. With this frontline, the expectation is that we’re going to compete at a high, high level on the defensive glass and manufacture offense on the offensive glass. We have a chance to be really great on the offensive glass, which is an important part of the game that we didn’t really have the depth or size to explore at a high level last year. It gives us a lot of versatility. Our three could be really big, long and really skilled.”

With a giant frontline, the Cougars’ style of play could be quite a bit different from this past season.

“We’re going to approach the game a little differently because we have so much size. Hopefully, when all is said and done, we’ll have enough depth to be able to do some different things,” Pope said. “There was some smoke and mirrors last year in terms of our depth. We had to hold back on a lot of categories of the game that we’d like to attack because we had to keep everyone alive — our numbers had dwindled so much.

“Our challenge is different this year. We get to play around with depth and pace of the game and different defensive packages and be way more aggressive. It might be more complicated to manage the locker room this year in working toward the best locker room in America this year. We’re going to face different challenges and we’re really excited about that.”

Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (4) drives around Loyola Marymount Lions forward Ivan Alipiev (35) during the game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

In the backcourt, BYU returns senior Alex Barcello and junior Connor Harding. Pope is looking to sophomore Trevin Knell, who played in 19 games last season, “to make a huge jump.” 

The Cougars led the nation last season in 3-point shooting. Will BYU be able to shoot 3s well enough again next season to spread the floor?

“We’ll see. That’s obviously a huge thing. Anytime you lose Jake Toolson from your team, it’s really complicated,” Pope said. “I put TJ Haws in that category, too. He commands so much attention that guys get open shots. I do think we have some talented guys. Alex Barcello will be playing a way different role but he was the third-best 3-point shooter in America. That doesn’t happen by mistake. Connor Harding made a huge jump last year to be a 42% 3-point shooter and I think he’ll make another jump this year.

“Trevin Knell has a chance to be a spectacular knockdown shooter. Wyatt Lowell has already proven to be a 40% 3-point shooter,” Pope continued. “We’ve got guys that make shots. We have bigs that make shots. Gavin Baxter has the potential of becoming a really, really good shooter. Do we have as much proven shooting? No. Do we have as much potential shooting? I think we do. That’s a really important part of the way we play.”

While Barcello is manning the point guard position next season, Pope is also looking ahead to the following season after Barcello has finished his eligibility. 

“I don’t have a player on my roster that naturally slides to the point. I have a bunch of guys that are interesting candidates. That point guard position is so incredibly important to me,” Pope said. “Unless you are gifted a player with the seniority and qualities of TJ Haws, it’s hard for me to bring a new person to the program and just give them the keys to the car at the point. We’re looking at maybe a transfer that might have to sit out that could take over for (Barcello) the following year. We’re thinking about all of those things.”