This article was first published in the Cougar Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each week.

Big 12 basketball prognostications are not out yet, but it is certain the work of new coach Kevin Young will be recognized when preseason polls are released. A year ago, BYU was predicted to finish near the bottom and ended up fifth, but in the last few days, Young signed two potential NBA lottery picks for next season.

BYU signed 6-9 Kanon Catchings, a highly-rated top-40 freshman who visited Provo on Tuesday. Earlier, Young made it official with Egor Demin, a 6-8 point guard from Russia, who ESPN projects as the No. 8 pick in 2025. Young also added 6-9 forward Max Triplett from Snow College as a preferred walk-on.

BYU’s recruit ranking for 2024 was in the top 25 before the signing of Demin and climbed to the No. 12 recruiting class at 247Sports with news of Catchings signing earlier this week. The recruiting services do not normally include international players like Demin, but if they did, BYU’s recruiting class would be considered deep into top 10, possibly top five.

Cougar Insider predictions

Question of the week: While basketball news has uncharacteristically overshadowed BYU football, what do you think of Jay Hill’s recruiting to improve the Cougar defense in light of UCLA transfer Choe Bryant-Strother and other additions?

Jay Drew: I just talked to Jay Hill about this the other day when I was working on a Father’s Day feature on his father, Ferrell, and he expressed a quiet confidence that BYU’s defense would be improved in 2024, for a variety of reasons. First, Hill believes the main core of returning players will be better after a year in his system.

Second, he believes that transfer portal additions such as linebacker Jack Kelly and Marque Collins will be able to step in and help immediately, particularly Kelly.

That was before the Cougars landed UCLA linebacker Choe Bryant-Strother, who should also be able to step in and contribute immediately. He’s needed, because there are rumors that promising LB Siale Esera has still been slowed by a foot injury that sidelined him the last few games of 2023.

So yes, I think BYU’s defense will be better — if it can get some pressure on the passer, an element of the attack that was missing last year. For what it’s worth, Ferrell Hill believes it will be improved, too.

“I think you are going to see a great change in BYU’s defense,” Ferrell told me during a lengthy phone call on a variety of topics. “I think the kids are buying into Jay’s method and his attacking style. He’s not going to sit around and let teams do a lot of running, and things. He’s going to stop that run, first and foremost, and that will be important to their success this season.”

Dick Harmon: Face it, once injuries piled up for Jay Hill’s defense last year, his design and execution toppled. This won’t be the case this year because he has more quality depth and the starters he will put on the field are superior in terms of strength, speed and football IQ. He did the hard lifting of installing his philosophy last year and paid some dues.

I think the addition of Jack Kelly and the return of Ben Bywater, Tyler Batty and Isaiah Bagnah is a foundation. Add in rush ends Ephraim Asiata, Bodie Schoonover, Aisea Moa, Siale Esera, Viliami Po’uha and UCLA transfer Bryant-Strother, and Hill has a lot of choices and fresh bodies.

I like what Hill has done with interior linemen after last year, which lacked size, stoutness and fit. Alongside a healthier John Nelson, he brought in JT Taumoepeau (Snow College) and Luke To’omalatai and has David Latu and Tyler Little. It is too bad JC nose guard Danny Saili took off for Arkansas, but Hill has some answers he can lean on.

The back end will be better because safety depth is superior, and so is the talent. Getting Micah Harper and Talan Alfrey back from injury will help immensely. Look for Marque Collins to step in where Eddie Heckard left off as a cornerback. Heckard made a heck of an impact.

I wouldn’t say this is a top-five Big 12 defense, but it will be far better prepared to help out the offense this season than a year ago in depth, talent, understanding Hill’s scheme and buying into his system.

Cougar tales

It became official Monday: BYU basketball announced the signing of Russian star Egor Demin. This is a game changer for Young and his staff because Demin is considered a lottery pick in next year’s draft. At 6-8, Demin can play point guard and his skill level will be spread out to all five positions on the court. Then on Tuesday, BYU received a commitment from 6-9 Kanon Catchings, a top-40 stretch forward who committed to Purdue out of high school.

BYU track recruit Danny Simmons won a national title this summer before he leaves for missionary service.

From the archives

Related
How Jay Hill’s father influenced his coaching career
How Kevin Young persuaded point guard Dallin Hall to return to BYU

From X-verse

Extra points

Fanalysts

Comments from Deseret News readers:

For those who keep referring to the Cougs of yesteryear, let me point out the obvious — BYU basketball has made a major shift. Coaching is different, caliber of players coming in is different, and resources being poured into the program are different.

186
Comments

It’s obvious that this shift has obsessed trolls in a head spinning panic. As for me, I’m just excited to see players like Demin and the 8 or 9 other high-caliber players wearing Cougar blue.

— CougFaninTx

As far as recruiting ratings go BYU basketball is ranked 25 this year and this does not count their new Russian star as he is not on the roster until paper work has cleared. IF they can count him and a decent big this should go higher. As for Football 24/7 Sports ranks BYU 44th and Utah 59th. A long way from playoff success. Still Utah has a good backlog of players and the better team now, but if football gets more higher ranked players the rating could change. I think this is the best BYU has done so things are getting interesting.

— What in Tucket

Up next

  • Aug. 7 | TBA | W Soccer | Utah Valley | @ Orem
  • Aug. 9 | TBA | W Soccer | Wyoming | @ Provo
  • Aug. 15 | TBA | W Soccer | Wisconsin | @ Provo
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.