BYU enters the 2021 NCAA Tournament as a 6 seed after a remarkable reload by Mark Pope and staff. This team has done great things already, but they wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of last year’s 7 seniors.
Last year’s cancelled tourney hurt. BYU had 3 of the best offensive players in school history in Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws and Jake Toolson, perfect role players in Zac Seljaas and Dalton Nixon, and then senior walk ons Evan Troy and Taylor Maughan. Those 7 seven seniors were the heart and soul of a team that was the number one three point-point shooting team in the nation and national pundits were calling the team “a dark horse final four contender.” BYU emphatically beat #2 Gonzaga by 13 points on senior night and BYU was well on its way to a 5 or 6 seed in the big dance.
Days after the WCC tournament ended, the NCAA cancelled the tournament due to COVID-19. Mark Pope said telling his team the season was cancelled was one of the hardest things he ever did as a head coach. BYU’s case isn’t unique to what other teams experienced, but what made it especially difficult was the amount of seniors on the roster.
If you remember, the 2018-2019 season ended on a low note. BYU was shellacked by San Diego 80-57 in the first round of the WCC Tournament and missed the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament. Dave Rose retired, and it looked like BYU was in for a multi-year rebuild. Yoeli looked like he was out the door, Jake Toolson was at UVU, and TJ Haws may have even thought of transferring.
Yoeli Childs returned to BYU for his senior season, but it didn’t seem that way just months leading up to his decision. All sources I had talked to before said that Yoeli was GONE — like, Yoeli stopped returning Pope’s phone calls. Pope was persistent, and Yoeli decided to run it back for one more year. He ended his career as BYU’s all-time leading rebounder and top 10 in points scored.
TJ Haws was a 4-year starter and started every game in his BYU career. He took some flack for BYU fans as a sophomore and junior, but he ran Pope’s offense to perfection and was well equipped to lead BYU on a deep tourney run.
Jake Toolson came back to BYU after transferring to UVU and was arguably the best 3-point shooter in America.
Zac Seljaas and Dalton Nixon were what Mark Pope referred to as “the very best complementary players you could ask for.” They were the glue guys and did all the dirty work on both ends of the floor.
Evan Troy and Taylor Maughan were multi-year players — Evan Troy is now a graduate assistant for BYU.
Mark Pope said in a radio interview earlier this week that last year’s seniors “taught us how to have the best locker room in America.” That is Mark Pope’s mantra, and last year’s senior laid the foundation for the Mark Pope era at BYU and this year’s reload that, frankly, not many people saw coming.
This year’s team has some special players and deserves to be recognized on its own, but last year’s incredible team deserves to be recognized for the important work they did to build the foundation. They never got a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, but this year’s tournament run should be dedicated to those 7 seniors who laid the foundation.
Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Jake Toolson, Zac Seljaas, Dalton Nixon, Evan Troy and Taylor Maughan all deserve it.