Patrick Kinahan: Faith carries BYU basketball to believe

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PROVO — Quick turnarounds in college basketball, with games being played on Saturdays and then another a few days later, often put BYU at a disadvantage due to university rules prohibiting Sunday practices.

But Mark Pope refuses to view it that way, going so far as crediting the mandate for his team's stunning success in the Big 12 this season.

The fifth-year BYU coach believes the guidelines are a blessing for the Cougars, who beat then seventh-ranked Kansas last week at historic Allen Fieldhouse and overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat Texas Christian at the Marriott Center on Saturday.

With two games left in the regular season, No. 20 BYU is tied for fourth in the sport's toughest conference and is virtually assured of making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in three years. Not bad for a team picked to finish next-to-last in the 14-member conference.

"Sundays are pretty special for us," Pope said on the KSL postgame show after the Kansas win. "I'm believing more and more that our prep on Sunday is probably more important than our prep on Monday. It doesn't guarantee wins or losses, but I'm just a believer. ... We're fortunate that we have these guidelines to follow."

Pope raised the bar two days later during his weekly television show, testifying of BYU's overall mission and that the team's faith has played a part in its success. In addition to several Latter-day Saints, the team has members of multiple faiths.

"Clearly, BYU is an institution that's all about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that permeates through everything we do," Pope said on BYUtv. Faith is "a place where we can all find peace, and our guys all find peace, and our guys are finding peace in our various faiths. It's playing a huge part of our ability to manage stress, manage anxiety and put our whole hearts into competing."

Continuing his sermon on the court, as quoted in the Deseret News, Pope said during his weekly media availability with reporters: "Athletics has a lot of purposes — one of them is to go win, and one is to give these young men an incredible opportunity to grow ... and certainly to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world."

Stopping short of invoking the famous "magic happens" quote that former receiver Austin Collie said after BYU pulled off a last-minute miracle to beat Utah in 2007, Pope's strong witness of his faith is usually reserved for more traditional church settings rather than in a basketball context. It is reminiscent of the stance Bronco Mendenhall took during his 11 years as the BYU football coach.

Before Mendenhall's promotion from defensive coordinator after the 2004 season, BYU football was an embarrassment to its sponsoring church and fans. In addition to three consecutive losing seasons, which was secondary, the program was replete with multiple honor code and legal problems.

As part of his job requirements, Mendenhall was charged with restoring integrity to the program. Along the way, he often infused the faith's doctrine into his public comments.

Much to the chagrin of outsiders, Mendenhall's religious overtones often were taken the wrong way. Critics ripped his perceived stance as taking a holier-than-thou attitude, as if the Cougars were better people than opponents.

The truth is, the criticism directed at Mendenhall paralleled the amount of winning BYU enjoyed at the time. After needing one season to rebuild the program, Mendenhall won 43 games and two conference championships over the next four years.

Pope is well within his right to invoke faith as part of his inward and outward message, as were Collie and Mendenhall. Look around, plenty of others are doing the same throughout all sports.

C.J. Stroud, who recently finished an outstanding rookie season as the Houston Texans quarterback, references his faith at nearly every public opportunity and on social media posts.

"I just want to give all glory and praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," he said after Houston's playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts.


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Patrick 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.


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