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Why BYU basketball may have a leg up in dealing with pandemic, and concepts they’re ‘stealing’ to get better

The Cougars have been on campus together since June participating in workouts, weight training and skill development. There are plenty of teams around the country that still aren’t practicing due to local restrictions.

SHARE Why BYU basketball may have a leg up in dealing with pandemic, and concepts they’re ‘stealing’ to get better
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BYU Cougars head coach Mark Pope instructs in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. BYU won 96-70.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — When it comes to dealing with the global pandemic as a basketball program, BYU may have an advantage over other schools.

The Cougars have been on campus together since June participating in voluntary workouts, weight training and skill development. They have been practicing as a team, with coaches involved in on-court activities, on a limited basis, since July 20.

There are plenty of teams around the country that haven’t been practicing due to local health restrictions.

“This annex has been really, really good for us. It gives us a chance to be in there and be quarantined and be safe when we’re working out. Our guys have tried to be careful but this pandemic is really complicated.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

“I have some friends in California that are coaching teams where they haven’t been all together on the court one time yet,” coach Mark Pope said last week. “Hopefully, it will work out as an advantage for us.”

BYU also boasts the Marriott Center Annex, which serves as a basketball bubble of sorts for its players. 

“This annex has been really, really good for us. It gives us a chance to be in there and be quarantined and be safe when we’re working out. Our guys have tried to be careful but this pandemic is really complicated,” Pope said. “Sometimes it gets you despite your most honest and diligent efforts. But I do think it’s been an advantage for us to be able to press forward through some things. At the same time, I’m a little jittery because we haven’t been able to do everything that we normally would have done by this point in the offseason.”

Pope always preaches the importance of having “the best locker room in America,” marked by the players’ unity, unselfishness and relentlessness.

“It really is the key to who we are,” Pope said. “Here at BYU, the way we recruit, it should be something we should compete for every year. It should be a staple of what makes us really good.”

The Cougars lost seven seniors from last year’s roster and have welcomed a host of new players to the program. 

“The impact of COVID has been really challenging for us because one of the recipes of trying to develop a cohesive and solid locker room is guys spending a lot of time together, not just on the court but off the court,” Pope said. “Clearly, the self-contained isolation that’s required to deal with this pandemic safely is at odds with regular, intimately scheduled team activities. We’re trying to take a bunch of different routes to circumvent that. I think we’ve made progress.” 

Pope and his staff members are happy with what they were able to accomplish in regard to recruiting during the offseason, despite the pandemic. 

“Probably the most important thing that we’ve done this offseason is being really selective with our recruiting — not in terms of talent but also in terms of guys that understand the culture they’re entering into, how we’re trying to build this basketball program and what we want it to mean and are excited for it,” Pope said. “We signed a handful of transfers this spring and all of them were excited about the possibility of playing for a team where guys were fighting for each other and were willing to fight their own personal agendas to sacrifice for the team.

“We had a bunch of guys that said, ‘We want to be a part of that.’ That’s probably the most important thing we did this offseason and ... that’s a massively important principle for us. We believe that wins.”

In order to maximize the skill set of this new roster, Pope said he and his staff have been talking to coaches from other college and NBA teams and “stealing” concepts that they can use this season.

“We have a unique opportunity as a staff with an interesting roster. It’s a roster that our young staff has never had before,” Pope said. “We have really extraordinary length in our frontline. In our backcourt, we have some athleticism. ... Though we are diminutively sized in the backcourt, we have some explosiveness that we haven’t had also.

“We also have depth right now. Depth that’s really exciting. With those three factors, we’ve been scouring the country in conversations with the NBA and college and trying to steal as much as we can steal. And we’re trying to distill that — new things that we can implement and grow.”

Since Monday, the NCAA has allowed teams to work out for 12 hours a week. The NCAA is allowing teams to begin official preseason practices Oct. 14. The season is scheduled to tip off Nov. 25.