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BYU Basketball Mailbag: Potential Starters, Surprise Players, And More

Westminster v Brigham Young

As of this writing, we are less than one week from seeing this BYU Basketball team in-person with the Blue-White scrimmage October 26. Other than a few guys getting temporarily dinged up, everyone outside of Trevin Knell is healthy and expected to be ready to go for the season opener (KNOCKING ON ALL THE WOOD AROUND ME AS I WRITE THIS). Knell had shoulder surgery in August and is expected to be out at least a couple more months.

Below are the questions you asked me — thanks again for the support!

What is your projected starting 5?

I can see a few different scenarios, but I’ll give my best guess based on what I’ve heard and what I think. You can pencil Fouss, Rudi, and Gideon into the starting 5. Spencer Johnson likely will be too. I don’t think the staff even 100% knows what the starting lineup will be when BYU opens the season November 7, but most of the spots are already set. The starting lineup will likely change during the first month of the season as Pope tweaks with things, but below is what I think is the most likely scenario.

1 — Rudi Williams

2 — Spencer Johnson

3 — Gideon George

4 — Noah Waterman

5 — Fousseyni Traore

Jaxson Robinson has looked really good this offseason and could potentially start in place of Noah Waterman. Both players can really shoot the ball, but Waterman gives you better size at 6-foot-11 and Robinson at 6-foot-7 gives you the ability to be more aggressive defending on the perimeter. There also will likely be lineups when you have Jaxson at the 2 in place of Spencer and the above 4 guys, which would give the team some good length on the court. Atiki Ally Atiki has made great strides and should get 20+ minutes per game, I just don’t think he will start over Fouss. There will likely be times when Atiki is at the 5 and Fouss at the 4.

19th-ranked San Diego State is the second game of the season and has great size and length, so I think you need to go with the above starting lineup to matchup with them at tipoff.

Starting lineups don’t mean a ton as all the aforementioned guys will be rotation players, including others like Trey Stewart, Dallin Hall, and Richie Saunders.

Biggest surprise player so far?

Surprise player will vary by your definition. Atiki has made huge strides and will is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was at this time last year, but I don’t think that is totally surprising since we saw flashes last season.

The two players I’m going with are Jaxson Robinson and Richie Saunders. Robinson was a highly-rated recruit and had stints at Texas A&M and Arkansas. He is still only 19 years old and looks to have found his spot at BYU. Robinson has the ability to be an elite shooter and a good defender with plus length. With the BYU team short on size, he will play anywhere between the 2 through 4 positions. If Robinson doesn’t start day one, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start at some point during the season.

Richie Saunders is another that I’ve heard good things about. Saunders returned from his mission in May and was known for his shooting in high school, but I think his defense is what will get him on the floor early. Saunders has some length at 6-foot-5 and can still really shoot the ball. I expect Richie to be a key part of the rotation right away.

Are the young guys/recently returned RMs going to get a good amount of minutes?

I’ll focus on the scholarship guys here. BYU has 3 scholarship RMs — Tanner Toolson, Richie Saunders, and Dallin Hall — and 2022 recruit Braeden Moore. Let’s lump in sophomore Trey Stewart too. I expect Saunders, Hall, and Stewart to all be pieces in the rotation. Dallin Hall will be one of the three main point guards with Rudi Williams and Spencer Johnson, Richie Saunders has acclimated very well post mission and can shoot and defend, and Stewart has shaken off the mission rust and is arguably the most athletic guard on the team. With Trevin Knell out for at least a couple months after shoulder surgery, the door is open even wider for all three of those guys to get consistent minutes. Below is what I think BYU’s 10-man rotation will be.

Guard/Wing (7): Rudi Williams, Spencer Johnson, Gideon George, Jaxson Robinson, Richie Saunders, Dallin Hall, Trey Stewart

Frount court (3): Fousseyni Traore, Atiki Ally Atiki, Noah Waterman.

Jaxson and Gideon will likely play some four this year due to BYU’s lack of size in the frontcourt.

Braeden Moore is listed at 6-foot-9 and can shoot the ball, I just don’t think he’ll get many meaningful minutes year one unless there are injuries. If a walk-on gets meaningful minutes, I think it’s Chaminade transfer Tredyn Christensen. Christensen has good size and athleticism at 6-foot-6 and has a couple years of college experience under his belt.

Which player has improved the most between the end of last season and today? And are there any concerns about size at the center position?

I would have to go with Atiki. He came into BYU with such little basketball experience, but he has grown so much in the past year. He has freakish athleticism and is starting to develop his skills. I expect him to be one of the best defensive bigs in the WCC that is a real rim protector. His offensive game is behind his defense, but he’ll get points on lobs and putbacks while he develops his low post game and jump shooting.

As far as size at the center position, I would be REALLY worried if BYU was in the Big 12 now. But BYU still has another year to add guys for that. If they stay healthy, BYU can be just fine in the frount court this season. There will be teams like Creighton, San Diego State, Gonzaga, and some in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament that will test BYU in the frount court, but there aren’t many on the schedule that can exploit BYU around the rim. If Fouss or Atiki go down for an extended amount of time, then Pope will need to get creative.

How many languages can be spoken by members of team? I think it’s pretty cool how diverse they are, they seem like terrific representatives of BYU. #GoCougs

Good question — I’ve done some digging by looking at BYU’s official site at player profiles and asking around for those that know the players. Here’s what I’ve gathered for guys on the team that speak 2+ languages

Atiki Ally Atiki (3) — Swahili, English, tribal language

Fousseyni Traore (3) — French, Bambara, English

Gideon George (3) — English, two tribal languages

Hao Dong (3) — English, Mandarin, Spanish

Spencer Johnson (2) — English, Italian

Trevin Knell (2) — English, Spanish

By my count that’s 10 languages that can be spoken. I could definitely be missing some, so let me know!