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BYU Basketball Mailbag: Recruiting, Transfers, Kahil Fennell, Scheduling, And More

The latest in the BYU Basketball world.

NCAA Basketball: Brigham Young at St. Mary’s Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

One big piece of the BYU basketball offseason is checked off as Kahil Fennell was hired as the new assistant to replace Chris Burgess. I’ll more into what I think about Fennell below, but I think he is a great hire and checks off a lot of boxes of what BYU needs heading into the Big 12.

The main focus now is filling the last two scholarships as BYU heads into the summer. Below are some of the questions you all asked me. Thanks again as always!

How will Kahil Fennell impact the team? What do you think he brings to the staff? Any recruiting advantages?

Fennell has been high on my list for awhile. I detailed the hire yesterday, and mentioned Fennell on April 13 as a candidate once the job became open. First, I like his background. Fennell is a native of Oakland, California and played his college ball in the same state. He started his career on the west coast and was an assistant coach at Portland State under Barrett Peery for a year. He knows the state of California and the recruiting hotbeds on the west coast. What I like more, though, is that he spent the last four seasons at an ACC power in Louisville. He was promoted to an assistant coach last year and recruited in many of the same spots BYU will play in the Big 12 — Texas, Ohio, Missouri, etc. He knows what it takes to recruit at the highest levels of college basketball.

Fennell will connect with all sorts of recruits. He is a racial minority and not a member of the LDS faith. BYU will need to open new recruiting paths in the Big 12, and let’s face it, BYU is a weird place for a lot of people! Fennell can tell recruits, “Look, I had my reservations about coming to BYU. But I came to BYU for these reasons and this is why I live with my family here. You can fit in and thrive at BYU too. I’ll be with you every step of the way.” BYU hasn’t had a coach that can make that pitch in a long time.

If Fennell was hired a month ago, I think he could’ve brought in some transfers to BYU. He would’ve helped with the chances to land Fred King since he was on Louisville’s staff when King committed there. I was also keeping my eye on some specific recruits that have already committed elsewhere. I think that ship has mostly sailed for this this season, but he can close the deal on recruits BYU is going after and start building relationships for 2023 and beyond. He has recruited plenty of current players at other schools, so that could be a factor in next season’s transfer portal.

What current transfer prospects are still being pursued? Who are we most likely to add to those last two spots?

BYU has two scholarships left to fill. I believe they will both be players that can play in the front court. BYU has Fouss and Atiki, but really you want two more guys to go with them to feel good. Recent signee Braeden Moore is 6-8 and will be trained to play the four, but ideally you play him in spots because you choose to, not because you have to.

I was keeping the first one under wraps, but Kim Aiken Jr is already out there publicly so I will go into him. 247 Sports national writer Travis Branham put in a crystal ball for Aiken to BYU on May 16. I mentioned a mystery recruit in piece earlier this month of a former All-Conference player that visited BYU the weekend of May 7. That player was Aiken.

Aiken was one of the top mid-major players at Eastern Washington, earning First Team All-Big Sky honors and Big Sky Defensive Player of the year in the 2020-2021 season. The season prior as a sophomore he was Third Team All-Big Sky. Aiken is a versatile player that can play the 2, 3, or 4 positions. In his final season at EWU he averaged 11.3 points 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1 block on 44% shooting from the floor, 30% from deep, and 82% from the free throw line. His sophomore season he averaged 13.3 points and 9.7 boards on 33% shooting from three. He made 76 threes his sophomore year and is a 33% three-point shooter in his career.

The 6-foot-7 forward would be counted on to play mainly the four at BYU, which he largely played at Eastern Washington. His versatility would give BYU coaches the opportunity to slide him down to the 2 and 3 spots as well.

Aiken absolutely has All-WCC potential. If he can get the admissions piece cleared up for grad school, then I like BYU’s chances to get him.

There is also a second player I’m keeping an eye on. I won’t reveal his name yet out of his wishes to remain under the radar for now, but he is a big man high on BYU’s list who BYU has a good chance to get. He was at one point signed with a Power Six Conference school, but couldn’t play due to reasons out of his control. I’ll give more details once he things are more public, but he would be a great piece for BYU and an immediate contributor next season and heading into the Big 12. He’s an athletic big man that would fit right into the Big 12.

Since Mo Njie committed to SMU, BYU has reached out to several big men. Gotta land one, but honestly I’m not too worried about BYU getting an impact guy that can play the five.

When are we expecting schedule announcements?

I wrote a piece in early April on the non-conference schedule, and really not much has changed since then. One thing you can add is moving a road game at San Diego State from possible to pretty much a done deal. That gives BYU 10 non-conference games so far. The Battle 4 Atlantis will have three resume-building opportunities, Creighton may be a top 5 team, San Diego State will be top 25, and then you have the in-state games. That’s a really good foundation for a non-conference schedule. The question is how many more games BYU will add. The last few years the WCC has played 16 league games, which would mean BYU has five slots to fill.

However, sources close to the WCC have told me that the conference is voting soon on moving back to a 18-game league schedule. With most Power Conferences adding more league games, it’s getting harder for WCC schools to schedule additional quality games. Going back to 18 games would mean every team plays each other twice.

If that goes through, BYU would have three games left to add. In that scenario, I think BYU would add one more quality game and two more buy games to be played in Provo.

What’s your breakdown on the RM newbies? Can any of them make an impact this year? (Because are they going to have to…)

Three returned missionaries get back for the 2022-2023 season — Richie Saunders, Dallin Hall, and Tanner Toolson. Saunders is already back from his mission to Madagascar and Washington, and Hall and Toolson will return home soon. All three players are guards, which is one of the reasons why Rudi Williams will likely be the only guard transfer BYU adds. Spencer Johnson and Trevin Knell will get big minutes, but the 3 RMs and Trey Stewart will be asked to take on a bigger role this next season.

Honestly, I like that strategy. You needed a point guard to be a steady hand. Rudi Williams is that. But, I like the idea of giving the young guys more run heading into the Big 12 and not just adding a band-aid solution at guard via the transfer portal. Coaches are really high on Dallin Hall, and I think he will be make the biggest impact right away. He could be the backup point and get meaningful minutes. Richie Saunders is also someone who I think will break the rotation. He is a lights out shooter and will be able to make three days one. Toolson may have a tough job cracking the rotation year one with all the guards, but I like his scoring ability.

Will BYU Basketball field a team next year? Why does Pope focus so much on the transfer portal to the detriment of the team?

I get why BYU fans are antsy — we’ve struck out on some guys and still haven’t filled holes yet. And I don’t want to call out Garth, but cmon man! What has Mark Pope done to the detriment to the team? If I’m being honest, Caleb Lohner is the only departing transfer that coaches wanted to keep. Everyone else was mutually beneficial to part ways. And Lohner absolutely has a high ceiling (there’s a reason Baylor signed him), but wouldn’t Aiken be an upgrade based on what we’ve seen from them in their college careers?

And if we’re looking at what Pope has done in the portal, he’s only added two transfers in each of the last two seasons — that doesn’t seem extreme! Alex Barcello, Brandon Averettte, Matt Haarms, and Jake Toolson were All-Conference players. Te’Jon Lucas was a solid starting guard. Lowell and Harward both had injuries, and Seneca didn’t work out like you hoped. But all in all, that seems pretty good!

Pope is not perfect. With hindsight, I wish he would’ve done more to keep Connor Harding and not essentially trade him for Seneca Knight. Hunter Erickson didn’t develop like we hoped, and we’ll see what he does at his next school. But Fouss and Atiki developed a ton in year one, Alex Barcello went from a bench warmer to arguably the best shooter in college basketball last year, he landed Collin Chandler when everyone thought he was going to Utah, and he got Matt Haarms over John Calipari. He’s signed a lot of freshman, but BYU has these things called missions! He’s getting three guys he signed back this season from missions. BYU had to fill gaps in the transfer portal. And it’s 2022 — if you’re not in the portal to some degree, you’re behind the times.

Pope still has things to prove and we’ll see how he does once BYU is in the Big 12, but he has BYU back on track after they missed the NCAA Tournament in the last four seasons under Dave Rose.