There's a lot to be optimistic about with next year's BYU basketball team. Fans are rightfully excited about the unprecedented influx of young talent that will be entering the program. But despite all that, there has been one small cause for concern gnawing at many observers.
While BYU's perimeter attack will undoubtedly be bolstered at the top by the return of Nick Emery and the additions of TJ Haws and Elijah Bryant, there is a paucity of depth and experience on the guard and wing lines behind those three bold-faced names. Sure, Jordan Chatman will likely come off the bench after playing a very limited role in 2015-16, and incoming true freshman Steven Beo will be available (although it will likely take a bit to get his feet wet at the Division I level). But that's about it.
Coach Dave Rose essentially has 120 minutes per game to fill between his three guard/wing spots. Emery, Haws and Bryant figure to take a lot of that time, with Chatman capable of spelling them and Beo likely seeing spot minutes here and there. But that's not a lot of depth to make you feel comfortable, particularly if one of your starters gets in foul trouble or, worst case scenario, suffers a serious injury. One bad slip could end up being disastrous for a team that has traditionally relied heavily on good perimeter play.
So what's a coaching staff to do? Corbin Kaufusi's decision to become a dual-sport athlete opened up an unexpected scholarship in the short term, but Rose and company also need to grapple with a long-term scholarship crunch that complicates adding any four-year scholarship players without needing to cut another one. (They already need to cut three by the 2018-19 season as it is.)
The obvious answer is landing a graduate transfer — an experienced player who has graduated from his previous institution and is therefore eligible to come in and play immediately, likely for only one year. But while that option fits BYU's pressing needs and precarious scholarship situation, it's not actually that easy.
First of all, the Cougars are pulling from a very small recruiting pool to begin with — there's just not many non-LDS kids out there who are super stoked to voluntarily swear off fun for their last year of college. (I jest. Kind of.) And second of all, by definition, most graduate transfers aren't looking for an opportunity to come off the bench and play backup minutes behind a bunch of prodigious freshmen and sophomores at a mid-major program that didn't make the NCAA tournament last year. Most were unhappy with their role at their previous program and are looking for one last chance to increase their role and/or visibility, in hopes of boosting their pro stock in their final season. Rose isn't going to short-change the development of his long-awaited/finally-arrived "golden generation" of talent, so BYU simply can't offer that opportunity.
So it's a tough sell. Essentially, you'd need to find a wing who A) possesses the proven ability to produce at the Division I level, who's B) already earned his degree and has only one year of eligibility left, and who C) is willing to live the Honor Code, who D) played at a low-major program from which BYU would offer a measurable step up in visibility, even if E) he would likely be coming off the bench and playing roughly 10-15 minutes per game behind a group of freshmen and sophomores to whom the fanbase has ascribed near-Messianic qualities before they even step on the court together. (Exhale.)
Talk about fitting the world's most obese camel through the eye of the tiniest needle imaginable. On paper, finding a player who fits that description is not only unlikely — it's borderline impossible.
But thankfully, the world of college basketball is a place that doesn't just exist on paper, where the impossible has a funny way of feeling commonplace.
Enter Konner Frey.
The 6-foot-6 small forward played for the crosstown Utah Valley Wolverines and former BYU assistant coach Mark Pope in his junior season, after spending his sophomore campaign at Utah State. A source close to the program told Vanquish The Foe that there is mutual interest between BYU's coaching staff and Frey—and while both sides are intrigued by the possibilities and exploring a potential path forward, nothing is done yet.
But while nothing may be certain and other complications could definitely still scuttle a transfer, Frey is virtually the only option that could conceivably check off the multitude of boxes identified above. From the Cougars' perspective, he's basically a basketball unicorn. Observe:
BYU needs a player who...
A) Possesses the proven ability to produce at the Division I level. Check. Frey started 30 games for the Wolverines, and effectively tied with two other teammates to lead the squad in scoring at 14 points per game. He also led the team in rebounding by grabbing 7 boards per contest. (If you extrapolate those figures out on a "per 40 minutes played" basis, Frey led the team with 20.6 points and 10.3 rebounds. That constitutes a very efficient use of his time on the floor.) He also notched a PER of 17.2, placing him decidedly above the average college player. Sure, he did all of this primarily in the WAC and would likely take a step back against stiffer competition. And yes, it would be nice if he connected on more than 33 percent of his 3-point attempts. But given the other options available (again, virtually none), Frey would serve as an incredibly productive haul for Rose and company, all things considered.
B) Already earned his degree and has only one year of eligibility left. Check. Frey recently graduated from UVU, making him eligible to play immediately. He'll have one year of eligibility remaining in 2016-17.
C) Is willing to live the Honor Code. Check. Frey served a full-time mission to Singapore from 2012–2014 and, as we mentioned above, is actually interested in playing basketball at BYU and (presumably) committing to all the lifestyle restrictions that come with it. Those don't come along every day.
D) Played at a low-major program from which BYU would offer a measurable step up in visibility. Check. UVU is exactly the type of program that a potential BYU graduate transfer would need to come from. It's a fledgling basketball program in a really bad low-major conference with virtually zero visibility. If your dream is to spend the final year of your college career playing in front of more eyeballs and hopefully making a run at the NCAA tournament, then suiting up in front of 20,000 screaming fans in the Marriott Center, having virtually every game you play be available to watch anywhere in the world, and joining forces with BYU's most talented recruiting class ever isn't a bad way to do that. It's certainly a step up from what Frey would be working with over in Orem.
E) Would be OK with playing a more limited reserve role behind BYU's "youth movement." Likely check? For the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as the strong likelihood that Frey did his research on BYU's personnel before deciding he'd potentially like to play there, I'd say he's probably made peace with coming off the bench on a bigger stage, rather than being a star against the Little Sisters of the Poor. Probably.
Look, I don't want anyone to get too crazy here. Konner Frey is likely not a game-changer for BYU. He's not Kevin Durant or anything like that. He's not going to guarantee your team is going to make a Final Four run or something. (Although I guess Durant couldn't do that in college either.)
But Frey is a proven college basketball player, who plays the position and can potentially fill a role that the Cougars desperately need filled next season. He's shown he can score the ball and crash the boards. He's pretty athletic, especially relative to BYU's normal standards in that category. He's a quality rotation player who, if disaster strikes, allows you to feel fairly confident about his ability to step into a larger role. And he just so happens to check all of BYU's many complicated boxes, which is truly nothing short of a real-life miracle.
To be sure, things might not work out. Nothing is set in stone. Frey may wind up somewhere else come next fall, for one reason or another. And that would be OK, because BYU would still be ridiculously talented and the future would still be ridiculously bright. But if we're being honest, it sure wouldn't hurt to have a solid backup plan hanging around.
You know, just in case.