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BYU Basketball Mailbag: Is Eric Mika gone?

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We’re answering your questions about the outlook on Eric Mika’s NBA flirtations, potential changes to the coaching staff and the Cougars’ optimal guard rotation.

NCAA Basketball: Brigham Young at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a season of change for the BYU Cougars men’s basketball team. The program recently announced that assistant coach Terry Nashif would be leaving his post, and head coach Dave Rose confirmed last week that three role players would be leaving via transfer.

With all this uncertainty in the air, this seemed like as good a time as ever to answer some questions from the Vanquish The Foe community. And so here we are: the mailbag returns!

As always, these are actual questions from actual readers. Let’s get started...

“Mika. He gone?” — Craig

We should probably start with the foremost question on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer for it besides this: I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does. I’m not even sure Eric knows himself at this point.

I do know that he’s taking the process seriously. He’s going into this endeavor with the intention to impress an NBA team and work his way into becoming a draft night selection — as he should. If you’re going to do it, go all in. No regrets.

But that will be an admittedly tough path. This year’s draft class is exceptionally deep as it is, and Mika isn’t exactly starting in post position. He’s currently ranked 75th by DraftExpress. There are 60 total picks in the draft. So he’s got work to do, including convincing teams that he’s not too old (22) to use a pick on and that he can play a position at the next level. Neither is an easy sell.

So will he be back next year? Maybe. That’s the best I got. If I were him, I would come back if I couldn’t get a first round guarantee from a team. Opportunities to play in Europe will always be there, no matter if he’s 22 or 24. Why not come back for at least another year and play with your buddies and enjoy being a college student?

Then again, I’m not Eric. I’ve never had the opportunity to make this choice — and it’s a big choice. He should do whatever he thinks is best for him and his family. That’s most important. Only time will tell if that leads him back to Provo or not.

“Is this the final year of Rose as head coach?” — Anonymous

“What will it take to light a visible and angry fire under the coaching staff? New blood? Administrative pressure? Donors?” — Jeffrey

Let’s just tackle these together. No, I don’t think this will be Rose’s last year at BYU — but that’s obviously dependent on what happens next season, which necessitates wild speculation.

However, while I wouldn’t necessarily say Rose is fully on the hot seat, sources close to the athletic department have told VTF that administrators were disappointed with the coaching staff’s performance last season and there has been increased pressure for better results next year as a result. So that will weigh on the staff and hopefully motivate continued improvement in all aspects of the program.

That said, let’s remember that we’re still talking about the second winningest coach in program history who has never won fewer than 20 games in a season. He has represented the university and its sponsoring institution exceptionally well on the national stage. He just built a beautiful practices facility for the university that he reportedly personally invested in. So let’s not pretend like this would be like parting ways with some other random coach — it wouldn’t be. It would be very hard and, as a result, the athletic department likely wouldn’t do it until they had absolutely no other choice.

What would you look for in a new assistant and what do think of Erin Thorn as a candidate? — Greg

First and foremost, I think BYU needs a players’ coach. They need someone who connects with players on a personal level and can play the good cop, communicate openly with them on a personal level and build up their confidence. Sources close to the program have indicated that this level of communication has been missing between the coaching staff and the players in recent years, and has been a primary cause for concern among athletic department administrators. So I think that’s paramount.

Beyond that, I’d love an offensive tactician with the ability to adjust on the fly and recognize when his players are just running an endless series of high ball screens with zero action on the backside of the play (you know, for an entire season.) Or anyone who can motivate his team to play defense. But I realize these are big asks.

As for Erin Thorn, I have no doubt she has the knowledge and experience to be a great coach. I’d love to see her get a chance. But we’ll all be meeting at Starbucks for pre-sacrament meeting coffee on Sunday mornings before BYU hires a female coach for a men’s team. Culturally, it’s just not going to happen, even in the Becky Hammon era.

What's the best guard rotation for more offensive consistency? — Jon

There are a few things up in the air here, so let’s start with what we know: TJ Haws and Nick Emery are your starting point guard and shooting guard, respectively. There’s a vocal minority who dislike Haws at the point guard position, but no other player on the roster has the same capability to consistently create for his teammates. Sure, he needs to dribble less (a lot less) and make better decisions, but that will improve with time. Remember, he was only a freshman last season.

The big question mark is on the other wing. Conventional wisdom would dictate that Elijah Bryant would be the choice there, and you can see why. Bryant is an incredibly talented offensive player — if he could only stay healthy. But even if he does get his body right, there are plenty of fair questions about Eli’s ability to guard, as our own Keith Shirts pointed out last week. If he can’t defend consistently, perhaps Rose should consider Keith’s suggestion as using him as a Jamal Crawford-esque spark off the bench where he could lead the second unit and have the ball in his hands more frequently.

So if Bryant goes to the bench, who steps in? The obvious answer seems to be recently returned missionary Zac Seljaas, who proved his ability contribute as a freshman two seasons ago. He brings another shooter onto the floor that should command defenses’ respect and open up the middle for BYU’s slashers and big men. And despite his athletic limitations, his considerable length allows Seljaas to serve as a formidable defender in his own right.

There will be others in the mix for time on the perimeter (new addition Rylan Bergerson, for one, along with any other recruits Rose can add in the coming months), but those four guys should see the lion’s share of the minutes. Whether or not that’s a good thing largely depends on how much they improve individually and as a unit from last season.