clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

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

Mark Pope’s initial success led him to make the difficult decision to ask out of his obligation to Utah

Wasatch Academy’s Caleb Lohner #41 in action 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.
Gregory Payan, AP

OREM — Making a signing decision is hard enough for top prospective college athletes in and of itself, although not nearly as tough as going back on that decision in lieu of another.

But for BYU basketball’s most recent addition, Caleb Lohner, reneging on his signing for one that was right for him made all of it worthwhile.

Lohner is a 6-foot-9 forward prospect who encountered a lot of recruiting attention from his sophomore high school season on, before apparently resting on Utah for his services back in November. It was an unexpected development for the highly-rated Wasatch Academy product, and a move Lohner reconsidered later, ultimately asking for a release from his letter of intent and then signing with BYU.

“It was a hard conversation,” Lohner said of informing Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak and Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan of his hope to be released from his signing obligation.

In a somewhat unanticipated development, Utah granted Lohner his wish, with the highly-touted prospect announcing his signing with BYU a few weeks later.

So what where the circumstances leading up to it?

One has to rewind to the uncertainty of BYU’s program shortly following the 2018-19 season to understand all of it.

The son of former BYU basketball player Matt Lohner, Caleb Lohner was introduced to Cougar basketball at a very young age and began recruiting contact with former BYU coach Dave Rose, and his staff, at a relatively early juncture. The connections to BYU were strengthened, with Caleb Lohner stating the chance of him signing with the program initially was a strong possibility.

But the retirement of Rose shortly after the 2018-19 season threw Lohner’s recruitment in a loop. The connections with new Cougar coach Mark Pope just weren’t there for a prospect who was hoping to make his final decision the following summer.

“I didn’t know anything about coach Pope and it changed everything,” Lohner said. “I mean, I’ve always loved BYU, but not knowing much of anything about who was going to coach me there — it changed a lot of things.”

Utah quickly rose to the top for Lohner, due to an impressive visit to the program, followed by a subsequent commitment and signing. But through it all, BYU became increasingly hard to ignore with the resurgence of play which generated all sorts of new excitement from Provo.

With Lohner’s school about an hour’s drive south of Provo, he felt and observed a lot of what Pope was able to cultivate.

“My dad still follows BYU closely, and yeah, it’s hard not to notice everything going on there,” Lohner said. “It’s hard not to be impressed with the style of play and just all the enthusiasm there, especially with Richie (Saunders) all excited about it.”

Saunders is the 6-foot-5 sharp-shooting former teammate of Lohner’s at Wasatch Academy, and the two became close friends during their one year playing with one another. Saunders signed with BYU at the same time Lohner sent in his letter of intent to Utah, with the two ready to square off as representatives of the two rival programs.

But both like the prospect of playing together at the next level even more.

“Richie was definitely excited when he learned of my decision to switch to BYU,” Lohner said. “He’s serving a mission (for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), so it will be a couple of years, but we’re both really excited to get on the court together when he comes back.”

Playing with Saunders is certainly a bonus, although the catalyst in Lohner’s decision is primarily playing for Pope.

“His coaching style is so impressive, but even more so is his ability to get everyone to buy into what he’s coaching,” Lohner said. “You saw it last year, and if we can get everyone to buy in like that team did last year — I just think more great years are ahead, and I definitely want to be part of it.”

Considering all the graduations from BYU’s program after last season, the opportunity to see immediate contributions is relatively high for Lohner. All five positions on the court will be open come the 2020-21 season, with the former Wasatch standout able to play a variety of roles.

“I don’t care where I play. I just know coach Pope will play me where I can help the team most — whether it be at guard, forward or wherever. I don’t really care,” Lohner said.

Playing at BYU in front of the program’s recharged fanbase brings its own appeal as well.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the program and I just can’t wait,” Lohner said. “I know BYU has great fans and I know the atmosphere is incredible down there. It’s just the perfect situation for me and I’m happy I was able to get to this situation, even though it wasn’t easy. I just can’t wait to get going.”