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BYU’s Mark Pope breaks down his 7-3 transfer and other promising newcomers

Transfers will be a big part of the Cougars’ 2020-21 team. Most of them have been on campus and practicing since June

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Purdue’s Matt Haarms (32) is pressured by Illinois’ Kipper Nichols (2) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. Haarms is a graduate transfer joining the BYU program for the upcoming season.

Holly Hart, Associated Press

PROVO — BYU coach Mark Pope and his staff hauled in an impressive group of recruits over the past several months. 

Those newcomers will be a big part of the Cougars’ 2020-21 basketball team. Most of them have been on campus and practicing since June. 

“They’re fitting in good because they’re such a huge part of the deal,” Pope said. 

One newcomer to the program is 7-foot-3 center transfer Matt Haarms from Purdue.

“He’s taken on a real leadership role and he’s an extraordinarily talented player. His skill set is actually a little bit different than I thought it was coming in. It’s been really exciting to watch him.” — BYU coach Mark Pope, on Matt Haarms

“Matt Haarms knew exactly what he was getting into when he came. He hadn’t been here, he hadn’t felt it, but he knew the expectations and he knew the culture we were trying to grow,” Pope said. “He’s fit in beautifully. Part of the reason why he chose to come here, because he fits. He’s taken on a real leadership role and he’s an extraordinarily talented player. His skill set is actually a little bit different than I thought it was coming in. It’s been really exciting to watch him.” 

Others that are joining the Cougars this season are transfer guard Brandon Averette from Utah Valley University; transfer forward Gideon George from New Mexico JC; transfer guard Spencer Johnson from Salt Lake Community College; guard Hunter Erickson, a Timpview product who recently returned from a mission; and freshman forward Caleb Lohner out of Wasatch Academy. 

“Gideon George, from the day he got here until today, I don’t know that I’ve seen a player grow more than him. He’s a guy that in one possession will come up with three deflections,” Pope said. “Most guys try to get three deflections in a practice. He’s getting three in one possession. He’s such a monster on the offensive glass.  He’s getting offensive rebounds from 30 feet away. I exaggerate all the time but that’s not that much of an exaggeration. He’s been really fun for us to watch. He’s doing a really special job for us.”

Lohner originally signed with Utah last November before having a change of heart and signing with BYU last summer

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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, Associated Press

“Caleb Lohner brings a beautiful spirit to our practice in the sense that he just wants to get better,” Pope said. “He seems completely unfazed by all of the yelling and screaming that I do at him. He just wants more. He’s clearly got a really, really high ceiling.” 

Of Johnson, Pope said, “Spencer Johnson has proven to be even more skilled and cover ground faster than I thought he would.”

Pope said he could “keep going down the list” talking about the newcomers. 

“We have guys that are growing. We have a ton of growing to do to be a competitive team but we’re pretty excited about these guys and they’re fitting in incredibly well and a lot of that’s due to the leadership of the guys coming back — specifically Richard Harward and Alex Barcello and Connor Harding. They’ve been great leaders in integrating those guys.”

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sportsrecently predicted that BYU should finish second, to Gonzaga, in the West Coast Conference standings this season. 

“Reiterate that it’s going to be a perennial NCAA Tournament team under Mark Pope. The Cougars won 24 games last year in their first campaign under Pope and have the requisites to again be a factor at the top of the WCC,” Rothstein wrote. “BYU adds a pair of impactful graduate transfers in Brandon Averette (Utah Valley) and Matt Haarms (Purdue) as well as a key freshman in former Utah commit Caleb Lohner. Alex Barcello, Connor Harding, Gavin Baxter, and Kolby Lee also return as capable veterans. This team may not have the ceiling it did last season when it would have been a trendy pick to go deep in the NCAA Tournament, but there’s still enough left over in Provo for the Cougars to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.”

Rothstein included Lohner on his list of “5 impact freshmen” in the WCC and he had Haarms and Averette on his list of “10 impact transfers” in the league.