AROUND THE WASATCH — Todd Simon took Southern Utah men's basketball where it has never been before during the 2020-21 season.
Playing in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the Thunderbirds won the first Big Sky Conference championship in school history with a 12-2 league record. Simon's squad finished with a program-record .864 winning percentage, a flawless 14-0 mark at home, and a Division I era-topping season that included a 20-4 overall record, including a 79-78 win over Nebraska that stands as the program's first-ever win over a Power Five opponent.
Now he's being rewarded for it.
SUU athletic director Debbie Corum announced a long-term extension with the head coach Wednesday, signing Simon to a contract through the 2026-27 season.
"It is a tremendous honor and a blessing to represent Southern Utah University and Cedar City. This is a place that we have great pride in and feel a deep connection to the community. My family and I are grateful to Debbie Corum and the university leadership for this extension," Simon said in a statement. "Under Debbie's leadership and with our excellent staff, we have built and improved the program every season culminating in an unforgettable championship season this past year. Our vision is to sustain excellence on and off the floor and to continue to compete at a high level."
In five seasons in Cedar City, Simon, a former UNLV assistant and interim head coach of the Runnin' Rebels before moving north on I-15, turned around a program that went 6-24 in 2015-16 and turned the Thunderbirds in a 20-win team, a conference title contender, and won the program's first-ever postseason game in Division I play with an 80-73 win over Drake in the CIT.
All of that led to Wednesday's extension, and for good reason — ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently lists the Thunderbirds as the automatic qualifier from the Big Sky in his way-too-early projection for next March.
Rivalry date revealed
Mark your calendars for Saturday, Nov. 27. The next chapter of the BYU-Utah rivalry has a date.
The Utes and Cougars jointly confirmed the date Wednesday morning when the University of Utah finalized the nonconference schedule in Craig Smith's first season on the Hill.
BYU will travel to Utah on Nov. 27, one of seven nonconference dates announced by the Runnin' Utes. The Cougars join Bethune Cookman, Boston College, Rhode Island or Tulsa, Missouri and Fresno State on Utah's slate. The schedule opens Saturday, Nov. 13 against Sacramento State.
BYU, which added San Jose State/LSU transfer Seneca Knight and Illinois/Milwaukee transfer Te'Jon Lucas in the offseason to join a bevy of returning starters led by point guard Alex Barcello, opens its 16-game West Coast Conference schedule Jan. 1 at Portland. The slate includes home games Jan. 8 against Saint Mary's and Feb. 5 against Gonzaga, with road tilts Jan. 13 against the Zags and Feb. 19 with the Gaels.
The Cougars' nonconference schedule also includes the Diamond Head Classic from Dec. 22-25 in Hawaii, as well as a neutral-site tipoff against Creighton in the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Dec. 11.
LET'S DO IT. pic.twitter.com/EhZ8Qa3WP6— BYU Men's Basketball (@BYUMBB) August 11, 2021
Cougars add New Zealand native as walk-on
BYU added one more player to its roster for the 2021-22 season in former American Heritage wing Paora Winitana.
A native of New Zealand, the 6-foot-6 combo guard averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists last year at American Heritage in Lehi and plans to enroll at BYU for one year before serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Winitana moved to the United States with his family, including father Paora Sr., who played professional basketball from 1996-2016, mostly in his native New Zealand and Australia.