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PROVO — It’s all lining up, if the star system is accurate, for the greatest run in the history of BYU basketball.
This could be the golden era for highly accomplished LDS high school basketball players. And BYU is successfully recruiting most all of the talent.
The Cougars signed five high school seniors last week, led by two players — Payton Dastrup and T.J. Haws — universally ranked among the nation’s top 100. They join top 100 players Nick Emery and Eric Mika, who signed last season.
Accounting for church missions, it could take a few years for these recruits and others to play together in college. But for a program that hasn’t had consistent success in the NCAA Tournament, the wait is expected to be worth it.
Since 1981, BYU has made a total two appearances in the Sweet 16. Both times, the Cougars needed national players of the year — Danny Ainge and Jimmer Fredette, in 2011 — to get there.
When you give Dave Rose the talent to go along with the kind of coach he is, I think what we're going to see between now and 2020 for BYU is more than a couple of Sweet 16 (appearances).
From 1994 to 2009, BYU won exactly zero games in the NCAA Tournament. For comparison sake, during the same period, Utah won 16 NCAA Tournament games, making four trips to the Sweet 16, two Elite Eight appearances and one run to the Final Four.
Apparently, even if history doesn’t agree, BYU is on the verge of becoming a basketball power. The program has had a great coach in Dave Rose for several years and soon is expected to have the talent to match his abilities.
Book your travel now, Cougar fans.
“When you give Dave Rose the talent to go along with the kind of coach he is, I think what we’re going to see between now and 2020 for BYU is more than a couple of Sweet 16 (appearances),” BYU radio broadcaster Greg Wrubell said on the DJ and PK radio show.
To borrow part of a line from LeBron James, he is saying not one, not two, but at least three. There’s no denying talent is coming to Provo.
No wonder Dastrup changed his mind and jumped aboard.
Two weeks ago, the 6-foot-10 forward from Arizona gave an oral commitment to Ohio State. He cited a desire to play in the NBA as a reason to choose the Big 10 program.
But last week, he reversed plans and signed with BYU. A surprised Rose said he’d never been part of such a situation.
At the time of the original commitment, I stated in a tweet that BYU’s affiliation with the lightly regarded West Coast Conference hindered the recruiting effort.
The theory was that except for Gonzaga University and BYU, the conference can’t even generate interest among its own people. Eight of the 10 programs, counting newcomer Pacific, had an average attendance of less than 3,000 last season. Four of those programs combined couldn’t average what the Utah’s women’s gymnastics team typically gets for one home meet.
If the NBA was the primary reason, Dastrup’s first choice was right. By unofficial count of scanning all 30 rosters, the Big 10 has 30 alumni playing in the NBA, compared to 10 for the WCC, which includes Fredette and former Cougar Brandon Davies — BYU belonged to the Mountain West Conference during their college careers. Half of the WCC’s NBA contingent is from Gonzaga.
But none of it mattered to Dastrup. Last week Rose said the player “always wanted to come to BYU.”
“I grew up following BYU sports as a young kid,” Dastrup told Scout.com. “I wanted to play football, but when football fell through I had hopes and aspirations of playing basketball there.”
Expect more of it.
One theory is the WCC can actually improve BYU’s recruiting. As with the football program, it boils down to exposure. For years, BYU toiled in obscurity with the Mountain West’s limited television package, but now the Cougars are beamed across the country on ESPN and across the world on BYU-TV.
“The West Coast Conference gives them a better exposure profile,” Wrubell said. “There are a lot more people seeing what BYU is doing in their current situation than was done in the Mountain West.”
When the university decided to go independent in football, Wrubell said, the “best possible” landing spot basketball was the WCC. The fact is, the WCC was BYU’s second choice after the original plan to place basketball and other sports in the Western Athletic Conference blew up.
But here are the Cougars, in a great spot. In the WCC, many expect BYU to regularly go where it rarely went in the WAC and Mountain West.