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The BYU Cougar hoopsters are headed home from a 10-day, four-game playing tour of Greece, during which Dave Rose played lineups unlike any he used last season, discovering promise in the process.
On Wednesday, the Cougars concluded their two-game appearance in the prestigious Acropolis of Athens Tournment, falling 102-63 to the Italian National Team--a team featuring three NBA players. The day before, Greece topped BYU 83-54, with the Greek national squad also loaded with professional and some NBA talent. Both national teams are ranked in the top 10 of the current FIBA world rankings, with Greece 4th and Italy 7th.
As the linked story above notes, Brock Zylstra was the tour's leading scorer, busting out with separate 27 and 26-point outings. This is great news for a BYU team that is clearly counting on main-line returners like Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo, Stephen Rogers and (hopefully) Brandon Davies, but also looking for someone else to step up. In Greece, that player was Brock Zylstra.
A former BYU walk-on, Zylstra reminds me of another former Cougar walk-on, also named Brock: Brock Reichner, who elevated his game and became a key player for the Cougars.
A two-year player for BYU following his juco transfer, Reichner played in only 12 games during his junior season of 2004-05, averaging 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. As a senior in 2005-06, now playing for his father- in-law and first-year head coach Dave Rose, Reichner started all but two games for BYU, and was the team's second-leading scorer (behind Trent Plaisted), averaging 10.4 points per game, adding 2.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest. He shot 46% from the field, 48% from the arc, and 77% from the free-throw line. A team captain, Reichner was in many ways the heart and soul of a team that went from 9-21 in 2004-05 to 20-9 and an NIT bid in 2005-06.
Reichner followed his BYU career with a single season spent playing professionally in Greece, and interestingly, Reichner's Greek basketball connections were instrumental in getting the Cougars entered in the Acropolis of Athens Tournament.
Zylstra's emergence in Greece (17 ppg, 6 rpg) bodes well for a BYU team that will look vastly different once all the pieces are in place come late December.
Assuming Davies' return and Chris Collinsworth's successful recovery from microfracture knee surgery, BYU will already have two proven players it did not have available overseas. Exciting point guard Matt Carlino becomes eligible on December 17th. So, add those three players into the mix, and the Cougars' lineup should hit WCC play at full strength and full speed in late December.
Meantime, newcomers Damarcus Harrison and Josh Sharp will take their valuable summer experience and build upon it, learning the ropes and Rose's philosophies. Both had promising outings in Greece, with Harrison averaging just under 10 points per game, while Sharp averaged six points and four boards per contest in his first action after an LDS mission.
The seniors Hartsock and Abouo will of course be expected to lead the way, with juniors Rogers and Zylstra showing they can be called upon for scoring punch and versatility (Zylstra opened the second half of the game with Greece as a point guard).
Nick Martineau has had enough time in the program to run the floor capably, while redshirt freshman Anson Winder remains a bit of a wild card, seeking the best way to fulfill his role. Return missionaries Ian Harward and Nate Austin will likely not be relied on in 2011-12, but the future looks bright (and tall) with those two in the mix.
I'm excited to see what the 2011-12 team can and will do, and the team's results in Greece represent only a hint of the squad's true potential.
Dave Rose is a tremendous coach, one of the nation's very best, and his track record alone should convince you that he will find a way to mold this group into a championship-caliber unit. After all, he took a nine-win program to 20 wins and a postseason bid the very next season, with almost all of the same players back from the year before- -including a former walk-on named Brock.