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Patrick Kinahan: BYU pilfering basketball recruits from Utah impacts both programs

Farmington standout combo guard Collin Chandler with his parents, siblings, girlfriend and Phoenix coach Kasey Walkenhurst after committing to BYU, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 in Farmington.

Farmington standout combo guard Collin Chandler with his parents, siblings, girlfriend and Phoenix coach Kasey Walkenhurst after committing to BYU, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 in Farmington. (Sean Walker,

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY β€” Even before Dave Rose decided to retire after 14 years as the BYU basketball coach, athletic administrators already had identified the leading candidate to succeed him.

Oh, sure, the bosses still interviewed multiple coaches, in part as a contingency plan. But all along they wanted Mark Pope.

The former assistant to Rose for four seasons was doing marvelous work down the street at Utah Valley University. In four seasons, beginning in 2015, he had built a program that advanced from a 12-18 record to 25-10.

The only issue was Pope reciprocating BYU's love. With plenty of contacts in college and the NBA, the charismatic coach was drawing attention from potential suitors.

Fortunately for BYU basketball, the university lured its top target. Athletic director Tom Holmoe and associate Brian Santiago obviously made the right choice.

Starting his third year, Pope has energized a program that hadn't made the NCAA Tournament for three seasons. Mixing a blend of transfers with the prototypical BYU recruit, Pope has gone 45-15 with one official tournament bid (the 2019-20 team was a lock to make the tournament before it was canceled due to the COVID outbreak).

Recognizing his resume still has no NCAA Tournament success, Pope is following a formula that Rick Majerus used to build a national powerhouse at Utah for much of the 1990s. Majerus often would stock his roster with the best Utah high school players and then develop out-of-state talent.

In addition to dominating the Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences, Majerus got the best local talent and by extension helped decimate BYU's program. At the time Utah was playing in the national championship game in 1998, BYU was undertaking a massive rebuilding job following a 1-25 record the year before.

Pope, who won a national championship as a player at Kentucky and played on three NBA teams, might be on the way toward doing the same to both programs in an incremental way. Over the last two years, BYU has locked down the best player in Utah.

After signing with Utah, Caleb Lohner got out of his commitment and enrolled at BYU. He saw significant minutes as a freshman last year and started the first game of the season this week.

Also this week, Farmington's Collin Chandler signed to play at BYU, where he will enroll after serving a two-year church mission. Utah was thought to be the front-runner to land Chandler, ranked among the top 30 high school seniors nationally.

In the end, Pope's magnetic personality and promises of a bright future won out. The athletic perimeter player becomes the highest-ranked recruit BYU signed since Eric Mika in 2013.

Going forward, BYU's inclusion into the Big 12 starting in two years is a potential game-changer, particularly in basketball. The new conference, which has multiple programs with national championships, is substantially better than BYU's current West Coast Conference.

"It just came down to a gut feeling," Chandler said at his commitment announcement. "Being on campus and experiencing the kind of culture they have there drew me in. I loved it.

"I love coach Pope and his whole staff. I wanted to play in the Big 12; those are some good teams β€” Kansas, Baylor, Texas Tech. I wanted to play against the best."

Essentially, BYU stole Chandler from Utah in the manner Majerus did some 25 years ago. Chandler's father is a Utah graduate and the family has football season tickets.

"I wasn't as much thinking about BYU; my whole family were Utah fans," Chandler told "But I gave Pope a chance, and he's an awesome recruiter. I felt like he had the same views as me. Then the Big 12 news came out, and I felt like I had to give them a chance. I did, and that's what I loved."

More from Patrick Kinahan:

About the Author: Patrick Kinahan

Patrick Kinahan is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. To read more of his articles, visit Patrick's author page.

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