PROVO — Over the past 20 years, through stops at UNLV, Wyoming, Tennessee-Martin and North Carolina State, Heath Schroyer has had a clear idea of the basketball teams he likes to coach.
Gritty. Defensive. Equally able to win a 68-65 slugfest as a 105-103 shootout.
And he wants to bring the same mentality in his second stint at BYU, a year after the Cougars averaged scores of 80.6 points per game but allowed 74.3 in finishing 22-12 with a first-round loss in the second-tier National Invitation Tournament.
Schroyer would prefer a system where offense flows into defense, and vice versa.
“I spent a lot of time offensively and defensively, trying to be efficient in teaching both,” Schroyer said after BYU’s first official practice of 2017-18 in the Marriott Center after media day. “The game has changed, too; people talk about position-less basketball, and the flow of the game is changing a lot. You’ve got to be able to flow from offense to defense, with an offense that complements your defense and a defense that complements your offense.”
In that regard, Schroyer feels like the new staff is already winning. Gone are the days where one assistant coach ran the offense, another the defense and each coach ran his own portion of team practices beneath the gaze of head coach Dave Rose.
Today’s practice was more collaborative, between Schroyer (who fills the associate head coach role vacated by former coach Terry Nashif), assistant head coach Tim LaComb and assistant coach Quincy Lewis.
“It’s not football, you don’t huddle or sub after every play,” Schroyer said. “The game flows, and one thing that coach (Rose) and I talked about a lot was that I didn’t want to come back and only do one thing. I think that has really helped our staff. We talk about everything, on both sides of the ball.”
The players responded well to the move from Nashif to Schroyer, as well — even the regular screaming of the latter’s tone of voice.
“My old coaches were screamers, so it doesn’t get to me,” said BYU guard Elijah Bryant, who averaged 11.7 points per game a year ago. “I love it; I think holding everyone accountable and holding the coaches accountable allows for more success on our team.”
Schroyer may be most remembered for his high-pitched sideline screams as a BYU basketball assistant from 1997-2001. He helped turn a one-win team in 1996-97 into a Mountain West champion in 2000-01 before departing for Wyoming. He went on to be named the head coach at Portland State from 2002-05, returned to Laramie as a head coach in 2007-11 and was named head coach at UT-Martin in 2014, when he led the Skyhawks to back-to-back 20-win seasons and a pair of postseason appearances in the CIT.
Most recently, Schroyer spent one season as the assistant head coach at North Carolina State in the ACC before returning to Provo to aid Rose in recruiting and being the top assistant on the bench.
“I’m not LDS, and this is the second time that I’ve lived and worked here. That tells a lot,” Schroyer said. “I talk about the relationships you build here, the type of people here, the values of the university and the church. I know this isn’t for everybody — not everybody can fit here.
“But if you want a quality education and to play big-time basketball, be around people who are doing the right things, then this is where you want to come.”
He also holds his players who are already in Provo to a higher standard — particularly on defense. The veteran coach calls seven defensive stops in a row a kill (like in volleyball) and insists that getting at least one of those in a game leads to winning more often than not.
In practice, Schroyer won’t let his players out of a drill until they get at least three-straight defensive stops. Refusing to play defense could leave one player on that side of the court for 40 minutes, sophomore forward Yoeli Childs said.
“When we get scored on, we’re pissed,” the former Bingham High star said. “That’s what it takes to win a championship. If we get scored on and think ‘let’s just get them back on offense,’ that’s the wrong mentality. That’s never going to win you games.”
Schroyer was quick to point out the good that the BYU basketball program has done since he left around the turn of the century. With 12-straight postseason appearances, eight NCAA Tournament bids and a Sweet 16 to its credit, he’s not looking to reinvent the squad.
But he’s also been approached by Rose to “look under the hood” and help repair a program that was left out of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons and possibly a third if they don’t right the ship.
“I just told him I would do whatever I could to help … and he’s been very transparent,” Schroyer said of Rose. “He wanted me to tell him the truth, and I’ve been really impressed.”
The Cougars open the 2017-18 season with an exhibition game Wednesday, Nov. 1, against Westminster College. The regular-season opener is Saturday, Nov. 11, against Mississippi Valley State.