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How BYU freshman Caleb Lohner quickly became Cougars’ top rebounder

On a team of giants in the paint, BYU freshman has displayed unique ability to clean the glass

Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) and Brigham Young Cougars forward Caleb Lohner (33) defend Weber State Wildcats guard Isiah Brown (12) as they play an NCAA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.
BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) and forward Caleb Lohner (33) defend Weber State guard Isiah Brown (12) as they play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Caleb Lohner didn’t have a BYU basketball game this week.

Too bad.

Not that he needed a rest, but his progress as an elite rebounder took a COVID-19 pause due to opponents’ inability to play due to the virus.

Lohner’s progress and development as a freshman playing rookie ball in the West Coast Conference took a timeout. This comes about a week after he earned a starting spot and more minutes for the Cougars.

The break came after this newcomer had a team-high eight rebounds against No. 1 Gonzaga in an empty Marriott Center and on national TV last Monday.

In that game, Zags post player, sophomore Drew Timme, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound All-America candidate, had 13 rebounds, three of them on the offensive end in 32 minutes.

Note: Timme had a lot more Cougars shots to rebound than Lohner had Zags misfires.

Lohner, who is 6-foot-8, in his first faceoff against the powerful Zags, had three offensive rebounds, tying Timme for that game-high honor. The kid was BYU’s leading rebounder, getting three more than 6-foot-11 Cougar Richard Harward, who had half the minutes.

But wait.

On the season, Lohner averages that rebounding leadership for Mark Pope. Period.

In the WCC only two players — considered elite stars for Gonzaga — Joel Ayayi (138) and Timme (135) have more rebounds than Lohner (132). Ayayi averages 30.6 minutes, Timme 28.3 and Lohner 21.6 minutes.

On a team with 7-foot-3 Purdue transfer Matt Haarms, the beefy big Harward, and the experienced 6-foot-10 Kolby Lee, it is Lohner who muscles down more rebounds than anybody else on the team.

This is a baby beast, a powerful force in the making. He’s just getting started.

Lohner might be a freshman, but he plays in a grown-man’s body. He is big, thick, agile and he has the attitude to chase down a basketball in high flight after it caroms off the backboard and rim.

It’s an art form, this rebounding thing.

It takes feel and superior anticipation as much as brawn and size. One of the best the Cougars have ever had at this was Kyle Collinsworth. Others include Steve Trumbo, Mel Hutchins, Kresimir Cosic, Eric Mika, Yoeli Childs and Russ Larson.

Trumbo, who played for Frank Arnold in the late ’70s, had a similar build to Lohner and was the same height. In a lot of ways, he reminds you of Lohner. Trumbo ranked No. 4 in school history with a season-high 10.7 rebounds per game (342) with far more minutes averaged that season.

In 20 games, Lohner leads the Cougars with 132 rebounds for an average of 6.6 per game. A good chunk of that has come in limited minutes due to the rotation and foul trouble. BYU’s second-leading rebounder is one of the most physical players in the league, teammate Harward.

Those 132 boards are without the benefit of playing in postponed games with Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and San Diego twice. Given his average, Lohner could have achieved at least 160 rebounds by now.

In only league play, Lohner leads the Cougars with 59 boards, followed by Harward (51) and Haarms (41).

“Right now, the best thing Caleb does is rebounding offensively and defensively,” said former Cougar and European pro Jonathan Tavernari. “His athleticism, but also talent and time in grabbing rebounds is very impressive. As much as we want and hope for him to become a star and dominate, Mother Nature and developing have to take its course and we can’t rush him.”

Mark Durrant, a stalwart Cougar in the Roger Reid era, had similar observations of Lohner, plus a bold prediction.

“Caleb has all the tools for a great rebounder. Size, strength, jumping ability, agility and most importantly, and what all great rebounders have, an innate sense of where the ball is going before it hits the rim.

“Caleb has them all. If he’s at BYU four years, he’ll be the all-time leading rebounder,” said the current KSL Radio color commentator for Cougars games.

Indeed, Lohner is just scratching the surface of his abilities at the college level after his sterling career at Wasatch Academy.

In weeks and months to come, Lohner will defend better and shoot more consistently. He’s already more accurate from distance than he was back in December when he was whiffing from beyond the arc.

But rebounding?

The freshman is the best the Cougars have right now.