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The Cougar hoopsters are a week away from putting on their game uniforms for the first time under the lights as the Cougar Tipoff introduces Dave Rose's 2012-13 team to fans at the Marriott Center. Next Wednesday night's event will precede the team's exhibition opener two nights later.
After Tuesday's practice at the Marriott Center, Rose told media that a closed Saturday scrimmage will also assist the coach in coming up with what will be his preferred starting lineup for the coming season.
"It will be interesting," said Rose about the opportunity to experiment with different combinations between this weekend and the start of the regular season on November 9th. "Through that period, we should be able to find a group of guys."
"Right now, what we've kind of done is split guys up every day, with different groups," Rose told the media on Tuesday. "It's interesting to me, because at the first of the practice, they don't play as well together as they do by the end of practice, and that's a good thing. Guys are figuring out how to play with each other, and what strengths each player has, but it will get down to nine or ten players here pretty quick here, and we'll go from there."
Rose said that after four days of October practices, the guys are "all probably a bit stiff and sore, which is good...but the competitive parts of our practices are as good as they've ever been. All the competitive drills and scrimmages have been really close, so I think that's a really good sign."
The coach said thanks to an NCAA rule change that allowed limited coach/player workouts in the offseason, "I feel like we're a lot further along on October 16th, just because of the time that we've had with the guys. It's still really sloppy, and there are a lot of tings that we need to work through, but I'm actually pleased with what we can do in practice all the way to the end, with guys understanding what we want to do and how we want to get it done."
You can hear Rose's entire post-practice media session and a sit-down conversation with guard Craig Cusick in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
BYU returns three starters from last season's team: center Brandon Davies, wing Brock Zylstra and point guard Matt Carlino. The Cougars also bring back a starter from the 2009-10 season in return missionary Tyler Haws. Asked if Haws can pick up where he left off during his freshman season, Rose says "I hope so."
Joining those players as known commodities are returners Craig Cusick, Nate Austin, Anson Winder, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Josh Sharp. Stephen Rogers is back, but a huge question mark with chronic knee issues. Redshirt freshman Ian Harward is being integrated into the lineup, while Rose also works in juco transfers Agustin Ambrosino and Raul Delgado. Freshman Cory Calvert is the lone player joining the team straight out of high school.
Davies: For the first time in his BYU career, he is playing as "the man." How he responds to the challenge will in large part determine how far the Cougars go this season. Rose says Davies "has impressed us, just because of his conditioning. His skill-set has really improved, but as big as he is, and as many trips as he makes up and down the floor, he is as good at the end of practice as he is at beginning."
Zylstra: a senior like Davies, Zylstra is more than a "glue guy"; he's more like a "super glue guy," because he does a lot of the little things but is skilled enough to be a significant contributor, primarily as a perimeter shot-maker. Brock had multiple three-pointers in 13 games last season, and made four or more triples in a game five times. Whether or not he starts, the guy voted as the Most Improved Player in 2011-12 has room to grow even more in 2012-13; Zylstra's well-chronicled quest to meet the coaches' 50,000-shot offseason challenge should pay off in the season to come.
Carlino: perhaps the most important player on the team, as point guards can sometimes tend to be, Carlino was singled out by Rose on Tuesday. "He has had a really good fall, and the first few practices have been really good for Matt," said Rose. "He's a little bit bigger, and in better shape." Carlino will have more competition around him on the guard line this season, and that may also help take his game to another level. BYU fans should be excited that they have three full seasons of Carlino's floor presence ahead of them.
Haws: just back from his LDS Church mission to the Philippines, Haws has looked great, from what I have seen him do in practice. His mid-range shot looks as comfortable as ever, and in scrimmage situations, he has yet to miss a free throw. I asked Craig Cusick if he has seen Haws actually miss a free throw in any practice session, and Cusick said "he might have shot with me once and missed one, but not when it's counted, no." Haws has an ongoing school-record free throw streak of 48 games and counting. I will not be surprised if Haws also picks up where he left off--as a starter.
Cusick: another senior, Craig is coming off a season in which he was named Sixth Man of the Year. Playing a shade under 17 minutes per game in 2011-12, Cusick had an almost 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and was a 47% shooter from the arc in league play. Twice he had eight assists in a game, including his eight-dish, one-TO effort in the Cougars' record-breaking comeback win over Iona in the NCAA Tournament. The BYU guard group is as deep as it has ever been, but don't overlook Cusick's contributions. He is perhaps the team's toughest and craftiest player, and he will simply make this year's team better that it would be without him.
Austin: Nate took a knee to the thigh in Saturday's practice and has been held out since. Rose said he hoped to get the 6'10", 215-pound sophomore some time on the floor Wednesday before hopefully working him in more on Thursday and Friday. Austin is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but had been fully cleared for practice. He is an extremely skilled shooter for his size, and I think he will be a valuable weapon in stretching the floor. Last year Austin shot the three-ball at a 30% clip, but I'm predicting a substantial up-tick in 2012-13. His mid-range baseline game isn't at Hartsockian levels yet, but Nate has that kind of potential.
Winder: had been dealing with some ankle soreness, so Tuesday was the first day I had seen Anson on the floor. A starter in 15 games last season, Winder will give you an active defensive presence, good floor leadership (seven games with four assists or more in 2011-12) and timely shooting (he had seven games with multiple three-pointers last season). Given the increased competition and depth on the guard line, it's unlikely Winder reprises a starting role, but he can certainly play. It's hard to believe he's only a sophomore--seems like he's been around for a long time already, and that's a good thing, because he's a great guy.
Sharp: Josh has been a bit of a revelation to me in the early days of practice. I wasn't sure what to make of Sharp last season--his first back after his mission. Sharp showed some early potential, but faded as the season progressed, ending the year having averaged 7.0 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, while shooting 39% from the field, 20% from the arc and 61% from the stripe. At 6'7", 185 lbs, he plays as a small "4," and in just a few practices, has really stood out. "Josh has got really live legs; you can tell there is a huge difference," said Rose on Tuesday. Rose says a summer of proper conditioning "has really helped him, and he's got a really good attitude about him, and I think that he's got a lot of energy to him. That's good." Sharp was a great leaper and dunker at Lone Peak HS, and it looks like that jumping ability is back.
Rogers: still out with knee issues, but Rose says "Stephen actually is doing a lot better." The coach says Rogers is taking part in a strenuous "non-basketball-related" workout schedule, and that "everything that he has done in the last seven days has not caused swelling in his knee, and that's the issue. He doesn't have any pain, it's that when he goes really hard, a day or two later, he's got fluid in his knee. When I talked to him yesterday, he was really excited about the fact that the things he's doing right now...haven't caused any swelling. Hopefully in a week or so, we get him out on the floor, put him through a couple of practices, and see where we're at." It would be great to count on Rogers for some three-point shooting this season, but at this point, anything BYU gets would have to be considered as a bonus.
Harward: coming off a redshirt season, the 6'11", 215-pound Orem HS product is still working through the effects of some offseason back problems, but Rose says Harward has "a real skill-set that will really help our team, with his size and his ability to score in the low post. You want to have a lot of real versatile guys on your team, but sometimes when you get a guy that's really good at one thing, he's easier to coach, easier to fit in, and I think Ian is that kind of guy. He's really good at rebounding around the rim, blocking shots around the rim, and scoring around the rim."
Ambrosino: will team with Austin and Sharp to form the power forward platoon, and has already shown a smoothness to his game that fits very well into Rose's scheme. "Aguie" is equally useful around the basket or around the arc, and has a bright personality that meshes well with this group. Ambrosino looks to be yet another solid pickup by Rose--I'm excited to see this guy play. Rose says Ambrosino and Delgado are still doing "a lot" of thinking as they learn BYU's system, but that "the most important thing for us right now is to emphasize the positive plays that they make in practice. They're doing a lot of things right, but not at the pace they're capable of doing it. That just takes time."
Delgado: another player who I'm eager to see in action. He dislocated his right (shooting) elbow at the start of the semester, but has said the recovery is almost complete. He hates wearing the elbow brace that has been prescribed, and will often ditch it for spells during practice. That said, he can still make shots with the brace on, and this guy is a shot-maker. "Raulito" is also plenty quick, and he will spot an opening and drive it to the lane with no hesitation. He's feisty, emotional and sure to be a fan favorite. The Marriott Center will ring with "Rauuuuuuuuuuul" this season.
Calvert: asked if Calvert is ready to play at the college level, Rose on Tuesday said "Cory is ready to make shots, I know that; the rest of the game is going to take some time for him--defensive assignments (in particular). Offensively, continuing to play through some fatigue, those are all things that he'll learn in the next couple of weeks, but I think he's a real talent." The Colorado 5A HS MVP in 2011-12, Calvert favors the three-point shot and can play both guard spots.
The Cougar Tipoff is set for Wednesday, October 24th at 7:00pm in the Marriott Center; event admission is free.
BYU's exhibition opener with SE Oklahoma State is Friday, October 26th, also at 7:00pm. The Cougars will then face Findlay on Saturday, November 3rd in their exhibition finale. The regular season starts Friday, November 9th against Tennessee State.