Fear not, Cougar fans.
If you were one of those getting a little nervous about the lack of fresh scholarship offers being extended by BYU basketball head coach Dave Rose over a fairly lengthy period of time, the drought is over.
After sitting quiet and rightfully enjoying his 2016 recruiting success for a spell, Rose got back in the game in a big way during the July “live period,” extending at least five offers to players from the 2016, 2017 and 2019 classes.
Let’s take a look at the 2017 prospects — who will begin their senior high school seasons this fall — to better understand who these potential Cougars are, how they stack up, what other programs are vying for their services and how likely it is that they ultimately wind up in Provo.
The Facts: Branden Carlson is a rapidly rising 6-foot-10 big man in the 2017 class. He plays for Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah during the school year and for Exum Elite in AAU competition — the same combination of programs as current Cougar freshman Yoeli Childs. While Carlson wasn’t a starring contributor in Bingham’s state championship run last season, he has come on very strong this summer and made massive improvements to all aspects of his game — making him an attractive prospect with considerable upside, given his considerable physical gifts. The level of interest from Power 5 programs (and some very good ones, at that) should tell you everything you need to know about Carlson’s potential.
What The Experts Say: Scout recently upgraded Carlson’s rating to four stars, while ESPN still ranks him as a two-star prospect — although I’d expect that evaluation to be updated very soon.
Thought 2017 Exum Elite center Branden Carlson was easy high major guy in the spring. He's even better now. Skill level catching mobility.— Josh Gershon (@JoshGershon) July 15, 2016
Exum Elite center Branden Carlson is rapidly improving. Lot of upside. Scores it with his back to the rim or facing it. Plays hard.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) July 21, 2016
Other Teams In The Mix: Carlsen also holds offers from Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Utah State, Weber State, Wyoming and UC Irvine. He recently indicated that he planned to take official visits to Stanford, BYU, Utah and Utah State in September prior to making an October decision — although I would expect that UCLA might join that list now.
BYU’s Outlook: At this point in time, the outlook’s not great. Don’t get me wrong. On paper, Carlson is a textbook BYU kid — LDS, with strong BYU ties, planning to serve a mission. In most cases, you could consider that signed, sealed and delivered. But BYU was woefully late on offering Carlson, only coming in with an offer after his recruitment had picked up steam elsewhere. They were among the first ones to watch him play and among the last to officially offer a scholarship — and those kinds of things can stick with a player.
I’m not prepared to say the Cougars are out of the running. They can certainly still secure Carlson’s services. But they’re going to have to fight hard for him. It’s tough to turn down a free Stanford education, Utah is coming on strong and UCLA’s tradition speaks for itself — all are formidable opponents. BYU has some built in advantages of their own, but Rose and staff are playing from behind due to their late start. We’ll see if they can pull it off.
Christian Popoola Jr.
The Facts: Christian Popoola Jr. is an athletic, 6-foot-3 combo guard in the 2017 class. He currently plays for Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas — although he played his sophomore season at Lone Peak High School in Alpine, Utah under current BYU assistant Quincy Lewis. The son of a former UNLV standout, Popoola constantly looks to use his athleticism to attack the basket (especially with his preferred left hand), but can also step out and hit shots from deep to keep his defender honest. He also has a well-earned reputation of being a tireless worker on the defensive end.
What The Experts Say: All three major recruiting services — ESPN, Scout and Rivals — have rated Popoola as a three-star prospect, with Rivals ranking him among its top 150 prospects in the 2017 class.
Like how Christian Popoola Jr. Attacks and makes plays. Plays and defends both guard positions. Smart! @ESPNRNHoops pic.twitter.com/vqGBFE9llt— Reggie Rankin (@ReggieRankin) June 17, 2016
Christian PoPoola shining to start this session. Getting teammates involved while picking his spots. Sky high IQ. #NBPATop100— Eric Hampford (@F150EricH) June 16, 2016
Other Teams In The Mix: Popoola has more than 15 offers from a variety of programs, including Oklahoma, USC, Stanford, Rutgers, SMU, San Diego State, New Mexico, Memphis, Washington State, Princeton, Pepperdine, LMU and more. However, he recently told CougarNation.com that BYU, San Diego State, Rutgers, Pepperdine and LMU are currently recruiting him most heavily.
BYU’s Outlook: This one looks to be mostly in the bag. Popoola has told multiple reporters that BYU is first on his list, and there’s good reason for that. Beyond his established relationship with Lewis, his time in Utah has helped him form relationships with many current and future Cougars. “I’ve been in the gym with a lot of these guys and have known them growing up,” Popoola told CougarNation.com. “I’ve worked out a lot with Nick [Emery], TJ [Haws], Yoeli and Gavin [Baxter]. Those are my guys. A lot of these guys are my friends, so that’s a good thing.”
There’s no doubt that this would represent a solid pickup for Rose. Popoola is an elite-level athlete, the likes of which BYU has not seen in quite some time, if at all. It’s easy to see how his diverse skill set could help fill a couple long-running weaknesses in BYU’s guard line — mainly, the lack of a skilled penetrator or a perimeter defensive stopper. Additionally, Popoola is not LDS, which would give Rose his second non-member recruit in as many years — a marked departure from the program’s recent steady diet of Mormon kids from the Intermountain West. If BYU is going to continue to grow over the long term and become a nationally elite program, being able to land kids like Christian Popoola with increased regularity is a must.
The Facts: Kolby Lee is a rock-solid, 6-foot-9 center prospect in the 2017 class. He plays his school ball at Rocky Mountain High School in Meridian, Idaho and his AAU ball with Team FAST. While Lee might not necessarily be flashy, he does all the things you want out of a blue-collar big down low. He’s got long arms, soft hands and good feet, which is a golden combination for just about any post player. He uses these gifts to rebound well in his area, catch passes in traffic and execute a variety of post-up moves — while also showing the capability to step out and hit the occasional jump shot, even out to 3-point range. While I doubt Rose would ever ask him to bomb away from deep, Lee could provide excellent depth on the block for a BYU team that will undoubtedly need some in 2019 and beyond.
What The Experts Say: ESPN has rated Lee as a four-star prospect, while Scout considers him to be a three-star recruit.
The biggest surprise was 6-9 Team FAST C Kolby Lee. Built like a lumberjack, he's got impressive low-post acumen and can shoot with range.— Full-Time Hoops (@FullTimeHoops1) July 15, 2016
Kolby Lee off to a heckuva start for Team Fast. 6-10 post player with 9 pts in 4 minutes. 3 buckets off post moves and a 3-ball.— Dan McDonald (@DMcDonaldRivals) July 23, 2016
Other Teams In The Mix: BYU is definitely Lee’s most high-profile offer, although he does have several other opportunities at a variety of mid-major programs — including Utah State, Boise State, Richmond, Portland, Kent State, Depaul, UC Davis and others.
BYU’s Outlook: This is another one that Cougar fans can feel confident in. In the absence of any major changes to his recruitment, Lee will likely wind up in BYU blue. He certainly seems to fit the profile of a prototypical Rose recruit — LDS, likely mission plans, etc. — and his skill set could provide solid depth down low, particularly following the expected departure of Eric Mika at the end of the 2019 season. If Lee does serve a mission, he likely wouldn’t step on campus until the 2019-20 season anyway, so the Idaho big man could be perfectly situated to step into the vacuum, learn from seniors Yoeli Childs and Payton Dastrup for a year, and then take on a larger role of his own.