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BYU Basketball Player Previews: Corbin Kaufusi looks to make quick transition from Football to Hoops

Kaufusi will be spending at least the next four weeks on the football team, and could have difficulty making up for lost time in a loaded BYU center position.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi Valley State at Brigham Young
Nov 25, 2015: Corbin Kaufusi blocks the shot of Mississippi Valley State guard Kylan Phillips.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

After committing to play football at BYU out of high school, Corbin Kaufusi grew almost three inches on his LDS mission. When he returned to Provo in the summer of 2014, he stood at 6’10, and realized football might not be his best option at that height. As a result he ended up filling the void Eric Mika left at center on the basketball team, when Mika left for his own mission, after an excellent 2013-14 freshman season.

During his first season of basketball in 2014-15, Kaufusi didn’t initially see too much playing time. However when Nate Austin suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in December, and Luke Worthington proved to be ineffective, Kaufusi ended up as the starting center for an NCAA Tournament team. It was quite a remarkable development. In mid-July of 2014 he was a member of the BYU football team. Just six months later, he was the starting center on the basketball team.

After averaging 5.8 PPG and 6.5 RPG over the final six games of the season, he held onto the starting position to begin his sophomore season (ahead of a healthy Austin). While the two centers split time and the starting position, Kaufusi recovered from a mid-season slump to regain his starting spot during conference play. His final numbers from his second season as a Cougar were very solid: 16.1 MPG, 5.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG. He also led BYU with 2.9 blocks per 40 minutes.

This past summer, he returned to the football team, where he’s recorded 1.5 tackles for loss, 17 total tackles, and 1.5 sacks as a defensive lineman. He will likely return to the basketball team after the Poinsettia Bowl Game on December 21. When he does, he could find it difficult to win back the playing time he had as a freshman and sophomore. One of the main reasons he joined the basketball team in the first place was because Eric Mika was going to be away from the team for two years. Mika has shown no post-mission rust, recording 23 points and 12 rebounds in 22 minutes in BYU’s exhibition victory last Saturday. The remaining minutes at the center spot went to sophomore Braiden Shaw (10), and freshman Payton Dastrup (7).

If Kaufusi becomes a part of the rotation on the basketball team, it will likely be because he’s more athletic than Dastrup and Shaw, and can provide an energy spark with his post defense, shot-blocking, and tip-ins on the offensive boards. What remains to be seen is how he can adjust to the physicality changes from football to basketball (something his older brother Bronson had a difficult time doing when he played both sports for BYU in 2012-13). He has been practicing with the basketball team at least once a week during these past few months, so his adjustment curve might not be as large. Kaufusi has gained 40 pounds since April, per Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune, so it will be interesting to see if he has all of the explosiveness he had on the basketball court last season.

If Corbin Kaufusi rejoins the basketball team following the Poinsettia Bowl, his first game would be right after Christmas. The ideal scenario would be for Coach Rose to ease him back into the rotation in the first two conference games against Santa Clara and LMU, so he’s completely ready for the marquee contest at Saint Mary’s on January 5th. If he is able to readjust well, he could be playing 10-15 minutes as a backup to Eric Mika by the end of January.