Yesterday, we dove headfirst into a mailbag filled with burning BYU basketball questions: Does BYU still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament? Should Dave Rose’s seat be getting a little bit warmer? Is the Cougars’ 3-point defense actually good or is it all just a fluke? For the answers to these timeless question, click here and eat your heart out.
Now, without further ado, let’s dive into Part 2 of the mailbag — since there were too many good questions to be contained in only one article.
As always, these are actual questions from actual VTF readers. Here we go...
How long will Eric Mika be at BYU if he continues to improve like he has? — Paul
That is the million-dollar question. Or rather, the multi-million-dollar contract question.
Here’s the thing: If you get a chance to get a guaranteed NBA contract, then you have to take it. That kind of money can be life-changing — not just for the player, but for his children and grandchildren. It’s an incredible opportunity to get paid handsomely to play the sport you love at the absolute highest level. You can’t pass that up to stay in college for another year and risk losing that opportunity forever if things go south. I mean, you can — but you’d be stupid to do it.
Which is to say that if Mika keeps improving along his current trajectory for the rest of the season, he should absolutely declare his intentions to enter this year’s NBA Draft. Full stop. No questions asked. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m advocating that he actually enter the draft.
Let me explain: With the way the NCAA’s draft rules are currently structured, any player can declare for the draft, receive evaluations and feedback from teams on his prospects of being selected, and still withdraw by the deadline and retain his full collegiate eligibility, if so desired. Under that system, it only makes sense for Mika to declare his intentions and spend some time talking to different teams to get a sense of how they view him. More information can only be helpful in this situation, which is why the NCAA changed their rules to allow this sort of thing in the first place.
If Mika goes through this discovery process and finds a team that’s willing to promise they will select him in the first round (where the contracts are automatically fully guaranteed), he should absolutely leave school and enter the draft. It will be sad for BYU fans to see him go so soon, but we can’t expect a young man to mortgage his family’s future just so he can spend another season hanging out with his buddies in Provo. If he gets the opportunity of a lifetime, he needs to take it.
Now, what if he doesn’t get that first round guarantee? What if he’s looking more like a second round pick, where there are no guarantees that he’ll even make an opening day roster? That’s when it probably makes sense to pull his name out, come back to BYU for at least another year and try to improve his stock. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he’ll have better odds of being a first-round pick in future drafts — after all, he’s already old for a top-tier prospect due to his mission, and many teams will view that as a ceiling on his upside — but with no sure thing awaiting him at the next level, it’s worth rolling the dice on putting together another special individual season with a special group of teammates.
Will any of this happen? I honestly don’t know. I do know that Mika has been producing like one of the best big men in the country so far this season, and people are starting to take notice. If he continues to dominate, particularly against top-level teams like Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, I could easily see him playing his way into the draft. Or I could just as easily see teams deciding that he’s a little too old to spend a first-round pick on. You never can tell — but Eric at least owes it to himself and his family to do a little exploring and find out.
What is the best way to use LJ Rose going forward? — Jeremy
LJ’s had a tough couple games over the last two weeks, but I still think he’s an incredibly important piece to this team. With the exception of this recent slump, you can normally feel very comfortable with the fact that, when the ball is in Rose’s hands, something good is probably going to happen. He’s a selfless passer who has the vision and the desire to set up his teammates for open looks, and for a team with BYU’s defensive limitations, he’s a plus on that end of the floor to boot.
His biggest weakness is his scoring. He’s shooting 29 percent from the floor and 25 percent from deep. That’s not great, Bob. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge problem, since the Cougars have scoring in spades elsewhere — but if opposing teams stop taking Rose seriously as a threat to score, that means that they can easily send his defender to help on one of his more dangerous counterparts, mucking up BYU’s offense in the process.
Most often, this negatively impacts Eric Mika. Since Rose isn’t viewed as an outside threat, his man will normally leave him on the perimeter to “dig” down whenever Mika catches the ball on the block. If executed directly, this double team will force Eric to give up the ball before he has the opportunity to make a post move and try to score one-on-one against his (often overmatched) defender. This strategy allows opponents to get away with guarding Mika with smaller, less athletic bigs — without paying as hefty a price. And it’s due, at least in part, to the fact that they feel comfortable daring LJ Rose to make an outside shot.
So what can be done about this? Well, I don’t have any revolutionary tactical adjustments. Rose just needs to make shots. He’s done it before. He shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc in his sophomore season at Houston, so we know he’s capable. It’s likely just a matter of finding that rhythm again after a slew of injuries.
So as much as it might pain some BYU fans to hear it, LJ just needs to keep shooting, and he needs to do so confidently. The Cougars need him on the floor more often than not for his passing, defense and leadership — and his ability to continue positively impacting the game in those ways will be inextricably linked to his ability to keep the defense honest with his shot.
What's on your BYU Basketball wish list? — Ben Criddle
You can tell Santa that all I want for Christmas is a fully healthy Elijah Bryant. I mentioned this in Part 1, but Bryant’s nagging injuries have been one of the biggest disappointments of this season. Dave Rose has said on multiple occasions that Bryant has looked like the best player on the team in practices — when he’s healthy.
But he hasn’t been healthy at all this year. Even when he has played, he’s been clearly hampered by his knee and that has affected his performance. And he hasn’t played at all since November 23.
His absence has been a huge blow to this team. I remain convinced that he’s the one missing puzzle piece that could put this BYU team over the top. But that can only happen if he’s fully healthy — and I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect him to be back at 100 percent any time soon.
Even if he makes his way back to the court in 1-2 weeks as expected, it will still take a significant amount of time for him to shake off the rust and get his mind and body right. So I’m not necessarily holding my breath that my Christmas wish will come true — but then again, what did Josh Gorban teach us about believing in the magic of Christmas?
WHICH MEMBER OF *NSYNC WOULD MOST LIKELY COME OFF THE BENCH FOR BYU AND SCORE 12 POINTS AGAINST LMU? — the one and only Jake Welch
Jake has known me since I was six years old, and he knows that I love *NSYNC way more than your average grown man with a child. So this is really the perfect question for me — and it has a pretty simple answer: Chris Kirkpatrick.
Look, if we’re being real, Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez aren’t coming off anybody’s bench, especially BYU’s. Those guys would be starting for Duke, musically speaking. So they’re disqualified. And Lance Bass and Joey Fatone are basically the definition of garbage time players. They’re mostly just happy to be there, doing their small part by rounding out the lower end of the harmonies (read: thinking up new ways to celebrate enthusiastically on the bench) and hoping someone throws them a bone when things get out-of-hand. (This is essentially what happens when they inexplicably let Joey sing the third verse of “I Thought She Knew,” the very last track on 2000’s iconic No Strings Attached. Like, it’s fine. But it’s sort of a novelty act, similar to how everyone use to cheer for Nick Martineau to chuck up threes whenever he even so much as sniffed the court.)
That leaves only Chris Kirkpatrick. And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t totally comfortable with it at first glance. After all, he was definitely the weirdest one in the group. (We know this because he once started a fashion line called FuMan Skeeto, among other reasons.) But if we look closer, Chris’ fit with this Cougar squad is actually pretty seamless.
I mean, if you were to ask 100 people who Chris Kirkpatrick is, I’d wager that 97 of them wouldn’t have a clue. The other three who did remember him? They’d almost certainly remember him for his questionable taste in hair styles. Does that sound similar to any of our dear Cougar hoopsters? I think it hits pretty close to home, if we’re all being honest with ourselves. (Also, he apparently voices a character on the Nickelodeon cartoon The Fairly OddParents, which sounds like one of the most Mormon jobs of all time.)
So he clearly fits in with the team culturally. But would he really be able to come in and score 12 points against LMU?
The video evidence says yes. People forget this, but Kirkpatrick was actually the second best baller in *NSYNC. (Timberlake was first by a pretty wide margin.) That’s not to say he was good, per se. His fundamentals are all over the place. But he was not afraid to chuck — even with the game on the line.
Let’s take a look at the tape from MTV’s 1998 Rock N Jock event, where the boys of *NSYNC shared the court with the likes of Mark Jackson and Antawn Jamison. Even amongst hardwood legends (and a bunch of C-list celebrities), Chris comes charging hard out of the gate — opening the game by taking a wild hook shot from the free throw line and therefore establishing once and for all that he has absolutely no conscience and will shoot whenever he dang well pleases.
That shot doesn’t fall (for obvious reasons), but he quickly follows it up with a successful — get this, because I’m being deadly serious — alley-oop fadeaway 10-footer. You have to see it to believe it. It’s truly a spectacular feat of basketball greatness. If he can work this kind of miracle off a crappy lob from JC Chasez, just imagine what he could accomplish on the receiving end of one of these TJ Haws masterpieces. He’d score 12 points on the lowly Lions in no time.
But that’s not all. Because Kirkpatrick isn’t just a volume scorer — he also wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line. With things tied up at 10 and victory hanging in the balance on the next bucket, Kirkpatrick deftly pump-fakes and then blows by the remarkably slow-footed comedian Bill Bellamy on a blistering drive to the rack for an open layup — which he promptly misses. (Again, fundamentals are admittedly not his strong suit.) But Chris Kirkpatrick is a true chucker. He’s seen that Michael Jordan poster that says you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, and he lives by that creed. He’s not going to shrink from this moment. So you know the next time that ball touches his hand, it’s going up.
It doesn’t take long for him to get his chance. Team *NSYNC retains the ball on a Mark Jackson rebound and, two plays later, one of the great NBA assist men of all-time shoots a savvy bounce-pass to one of the great celebrity ballers of all-time on a sneaky cut through the lane. Kirkpatrick cleanly collects the pass from Jackson and immediately proceeds to score a tough left-handed layup over his defender’s outstretched arms, sealing the victory for his team and forever securing his place in hardwood history and our collective hearts.
So yes, legendary chucker (and underrated countertenor) Chris Kirkpatrick would definitely be the member of *NSYNC most likely to come off the bench and score 12 points against LMU — and he’d probably hit the game-winner too.
Fire away, Chris. Fire away. I believe in you.
Can we get your definitive hair rankings so we can discuss them in-depth on our show? — Jess and Mary from Cougars on Cougars
1. Honorary Cougar Chris Kirkpatrick