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BYU Basketball Early 2020-2021 Preview: Returnees, newcomers, recruits and transfers to watch

Lots to look forward to in Year Two of the Pope era.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Brigham Young Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

After the 2019-2020 season ended abruptly and prematurely, BYU fans everywhere are left wondering “what if” after the best basketball season in nearly a decade. While this team should go down as of BYU’s best teams in recent memory, despite the unfortunate ending to the season, there is still a lot to look forward to in year two of the Mark Pope Era.

We breakdown the returnees, newcomers, and potential recruits and transfers to watch as we head into the offseason.

The Returnees

Alex Barcello, SR- The Arizona transfer will be the starting point guard after integrating himself nicely into BYU’s starting lineup this year. Barcello averaged 9.3 ppg and was third in the entire country in three-point percentage, shooting a blistering 49.1%. Barcello is a “bulldog” as described by Mark Pope and will be asked to carry more of a play-making role in addition to the energy he brings every night.

Virginia Tech v Brigham Young Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Connor Harding, JR- After an up-and-down freshman season, Connor developed into a key role player as a sophomore and improved every facet of his game. His 6.1 ppg matched his freshman average, but he improved his field goal percentage to 51.8% (up from 46.3%) and developed into a great three pointer shooter, shooting 45.3% (up from 30.9%). His 45% mark was 14th nationally.

Connor was also arguably BYU’s most versatile defender, as he was able to lock up quick guards like Jordan Ford and bigs like Malik Fitts. Connor should be a fixture in next season’s starting lineup and one the featured players.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Brigham Young Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Harward, RS JR- The UVU transfer sat out this season, but he will look to make a big impact next year and likely be BYU’s starting center. At 6-foot-11 and 255 pounds, Harward is a load in the post; Pope praised him multiple times for the physicality he brought in practice. Harward was a seldom-used player his first year-and-a-half at UVU, but he came on strong at the end of his sophomore year, averaging 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and shooting 67.9% during the last 18 games of the season. Don’t be surprised to see Harward as an All-WCC player at year’s end.

Utah Valley v Grand Canyon Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

Gavin Baxter, JR- After a promising freshman season, Baxter tore his labrum in September and missed a majority of the season. He burned his redshirt and came back in February to aid BYU in its tourney run, but never quite integrated himself back into things. At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and 44-inch vertical leap, Baxter is an absolute physical freak. If he can get fully healthy this offseason and back into shape, his ceiling is as high as anyone on the team.

Also, wouldn’t it be nice if the NCAA granted him a waiver and make him a redshirt sophomore next season?

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary’s at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Kolby Lee, JR- Lee was probably the most pleasant surprise of the season and developed into a quality big man. He more than held in his own in the post when BYU was without Yoeli Childs and helped spark some big wins. He averaged 7 ppg and shot an impressive 62.5% from the field. Lee may not start next season over Harward, but he’ll be firmly in the rotation.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Brigham Young Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Wyatt Lowell, RS SO- The other UVU transfer, the 6-foot-10 2019 WAC Freshman of the year is a completely different big man than Harward. Lowell is a stretch big man — he shot 37.6% from three as a freshman — who could play any position between 3-5 depending on the lineup BYU goes with. Lowell could start next year and brings a lot of versatility in his offensive game.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 06 Utah Valley State at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Trevin Knell, SO- Knell was part of the rotation in non-conference play, but fell off after Yoeli Childs’ return and a broken thumb early in WCC play. Knell will be counted on to be one of BYU’s top three-point shooters next year and should factor into the main rotation.

Virginia Tech v Brigham Young Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Jesse Wade, RS JR- Wade redshirted last season and missed all of this year with lingering knee issues. Wade is a great shooter when healthy, but don’t be surprised to see him medically retire due to his ongoing knee issues.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Blaze Nield, JR- Nield was a walk-on after transferring from the JUCO ranks and didn’t get quite as much playing time as some expected. With BYU likely to bring in a haul of transfers, Nield may find playing time sparse once again.

Cameron Pearson, SO- The other returning walk-on, Pearson is behind Nield in the rotation.

The Newcomers

Spencer Johnson, RS SO- The 6-foot-5 shooting guard from SLCC was BYU’s first signee in the 2020 class. Johnson averaged 13.2 ppg, 5 rpg and shot 49% from the floor and 37% from three this past season.

Gideon George, RS JR- Originally from Nigeria, the JUCO transfer is a long, athletic wing that will bring versatility to BYU’s lineup. George is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan that has the versatility to play the 2-4 positions. George was one of the top JUCO players out West this year, averaging 14.5 ppg, 8 rpg, and shooting 51% from the field and 36% from three. George will be one of the wildcards on the team, but his athleticism could make him a big piece.

Hunter Erickson, FR- A member of the 2018 recruiting class, Erickson will join BYU after serving a mission. A top 200 player in the 2018 class, Erickson is an athletic guard that can really jump and shoot it from three. Erickson will likely play shooting guard at BYU.

Twitter: @hunterericksonn

If every scholarship player returns and the three signees come as planned, that means BYU has 11 scholarships allotted; if Wade medically retires, BYU then has 10. Teams have a 13 scholarship limit, so that means BYU can add up to 2 or 3 guys. Other players could leave the program in the coming months which would free up additional scholarships.

Other Recruits to Watch

Kerr Kriisa- A point guard from Estonia that is currently playing in Lithuania, BYU coaches have gone overseas to recruit Kriisa. Kriisa would be BYU’s point guard of the future if the Cougars can land him. Kriisa confirmed to Vanquish the Foe that BYU has been actively recruiting him.

Instagram: @kkriisa

Omer Kucuk- Another international point guard, Kucuk came from Turkey to play at Spire Academy in Ohio. TCU offered Kucuk early and is a team to watch. BYU likely won’t get both Kriisa and Kucuk, but my guess is that they try to land at least one of them.

Instagram: @omeryasirkucuk

Potential Transfers to Watch

We are still VERY early in the transfer proces, but BYU will be very active in trying to get multiple transfers. The list of guys BYU pursues will grow in the coming months, but here is an early look at guys BYU already reached out to or likely will reach out to.

Isaiah White, UVU- White is not in the transfer portal right now, but he was in there last offseason before deciding to return to UVU. If White does decide to transfer, he will likely be a graduate transfer and be able to play immediately. The 6-foot-7 wing is UVU’s best player and one of the top players in the WAC; he averaged 14.5 ppg and 8.4 rpg per game as junior this year. This staff is obviously very familiar with White since they already coached him, so look for BYU a major player if White does enter the transfer portal again.

Jonah Antonio, UNLV- Another grad transfer, the sharpshooting Aussie guard will be pursued by multiple teams. Antonio is a streaky shooter, but he can really fill it up from deep when he gets going. He averaged 11.3 ppg as a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s and 6.9 ppg at UNLV this season. Antonio’s efficiency isn’t great — he shot 34% from deep as a freshman and 31.5% this year — but he could really flourish in the right system.

Isaac White, Stanford- Another Aussie sharpshooting guard, White announced he will graduate transfer from Stanford. Jake Hatch of 1280 The Zone first reported BYU’s potential interest.

White only averaged 4.2 ppg this season, but he shot over 40% from three and would give BYU good shooting off the bench if the Cougars do pursue him

Abel Porter, Utah State- Another graduate transfer, Porter added his name to the transfer portal after graduating with his Master’s Degree from Utah State. Porter has struggled with back issues, but he started every game this season and 17 of the 34 games the year before on NCAA tournament teams. Porter averaged 5.5 ppg as a sophomore and junior, but saw his efficiency dip this year. He shot 30% from three this year after shooting over 40% the year before. BYU may not offer Porter a scholarship, but they will likely pursue him.