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BYU Basketball Mailbag: Recruiting, Big 12 Outlook, Roster, and More

The latest in the world of BYU Hoops.

Brigham Young v Saint Mary’s Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Two months after BYU’s season ended to Saint Mary’s, BYU’s 2023-2024 roster is nearing completion. BYU didn’t get its first transfer commitment last offseason until Rudi Williams committed May 7. This year, BYU locked in three transfers by May 3. I credit three main things for BYU hitting on more of its top targets this year — 1) Big 12 affiliation, 2) increased NIL support and 3) the addition of Kahil Fennell to the staff. BYU knew last offseason they would be in the Big 12, but that was still a year away and didn’t resonate with recruits. For NIL, BYU has the Royal Blue Collective and other NIL avenues that either didn’t exist last year or weren’t in a position to contribute in a meaningful way. NIL helped BYU close recruits this year. And for Kahil Fennell, having a non-lds, racial minority on the staff was huge to close a guy like Ques Glover, who had offers from several SEC schools.

As far as roster construction, I believe BYU is right at the 13 scholarship limit (I’ll get to that more later). This is based on multiple conversations I’ve had with multiple sources close to the program.

Below are some of the questions you all asked me. Thank you as always for the support!

How many more guys do you think will be coming from the transfer portal?

When the offseason started I expected BYU to add 3-4 players from the portal, and that is still my expectation. There is a scenario where BYU is done adding scholarship players. BYU is lighter on frontcourt players than I would like, but Aly Khalifa, Fouss, Atiki, and Noah Waterman gives you four guys for the four and five spots, which is manageable if there are no long-term injuries.

However, BYU will kick the tires on adding one more front court player. If the right fit is there and the player is interested then I think coaches would add one more mobile frontcourt player that can rebound and guard multiple positions. Rebounding and a true four that can guard alongside Fouss or Aly is a concern of mine for this team. If coaches can find that type of player then I think they would look to add one more guy. If I had to say, I think BYU adds one more player.

If no one else transfers out, that would accomplish the main objective I had for BYU this offseason — add talent without losing any of the main core of returnees. If things hold, that allows BYU to continue to grow and develop its main nucleus while adding additional talent on top.

Will someone have a scholarship pulled or they anticipating some transfer outs? Will we grab someone else from the portal? Tolu Smith a possibility if he doesn’t go pro?

As it stands now, BYU is one over the scholarship limit. I mentioned up top that coaches are operating under the belief that they are right at the limit. How would that work? Three ways: 1) A current scholarship player transfers out, 2) an anticipated incoming player is not coming in, or 3) a scholarship players moves to walk-on.

I linked a Jake Wahlin question here for a reason. Wahlin signed in the 2021 class and is the one anticipated incoming high school player/RM. Last I heard, he is scheduled to return home from his mission May 16.

Wahlin still has BYU Basketball listed in his IG profile. It’s his announcement to make of his future plans. However, I would not be surprised to see him at another school next season. If that is the case, then BYU is at its scholarship limit. If Wahlin does indeed move on, BYU will be counting on 2024 players to fill the void for young frontcourt players in the pipeline. Isaac Davis is already on board, and BYU is in heavy pursuit of Malick Diallo and Brody Kozlowski.

If any current players transfer out, May 11 is the date to watch. That is when the window closes for undergraduate players to enter the portal. If they enter after that, they will need a a waiver to play at their next school, which the NCAA is saying will be very difficult. Graduate transfers can enter the portal after that without having to sit out. Trevin Knell and Spencer Johnson are BYU’s two graduate players.

If BYU were to add another player, the preference would be for one of the existing guys to move to walk-on status. I don’t think it would be hard for a player to get ~$10k in NIL money to cover tuition and cost of living. If you asked me right now I don’t anticipate a player transferring out before the deadline, but that could change as we get nearer and someone wants to keep his options open.

Are the additions made enough to compete daily in the big 12?

BYU will be able to “compete” year one in the Big 12 — if by compete you mean be reasonably competitive in most games. How that translates to wins and losses is another story. Still too early for me to predict what BYU’s record year one, but I think out of 18 Big 12 games my prediction will fall somewhere between 3 and 7 wins. 7-11 in Big 12 play is likely what BYU will need to get in the bubble conversation.

If you’re mapping out BYU’s quest to get in the NCAA Tournament, it probably looks something like this: 11-2 in non-conference, 5-4 at home in Big 12 play, and 2-7 on the road for a regular season record of 18-13. That will be VERY difficult. Last year, Oklahoma State went 8-10 in Big 12 play and was one of the first four teams out due to lack of quality wins in non-league play; they had zero Q1 wins in non-conference and Sam Houston at home was the lone Q2 win.

West Virginia went 7-11 in non-league play, but received a 9 seed in the tournament due to quality non-conference wins over Pitt, Florida, and Auburn.

BYU’s non-conference schedule won’t be loaded, but there are ample opportunities to rack up sheer number wins and get a couple of quality wins. BYU hosts San Diego State in Provo, plays at Utah, and will play two of Vanderbilt, Arizona State, or NC State in the Wooden Legacy in Las Vegas. If BYU can split those four and go 11-2 heading into Big 12 play, then 7-11 in Big 12 play can get you in the tournament. BYU went 7-9 in WCC play last year, and while I fully expect the team to improve next season, getting 7 league wins again — but this time in the Big 12 — will be HARD.

The Marriott Center will allow BYU to steal a few games, but progress in year one may not be fully measured by win-loss record; if BYU can improve its KenPom ranking and be competitive in most Big 12 games and compete for a NIT bid, that may be considered a success in Year One.

Who do you expect to take the biggest jump next year? That is who looks to improve this off season the most and be a bigger contributor going into the Big12?

The player I HOPE makes the leap is Atiki Ally Atiki. When Atiki came to BYU, the plan was for him to make a tangible impact by year three. That was accelerated to year one due to injuries, but he’s someone BYU really needs to take the next leap. I worry about Fouss and Aly on the floor simultaneously on defense due to their lack of lateral mobility, but Atiki is someone that can play alongside both of those players and cover up some of the defensive efficiencies. Offensively all you really need Atiki to be is a guy that can crash the glass and create second chance points. Defensively is where he really needs to have an impact. He showed well in the WCC tournament, but he’ll need to do that and more the whole season.

If Atiki can protect the rim, switch 1-5, and rebound the ball, that will be huge to BYU’s success. He has the athleticism to do those things, and the hope is in year three he will pop.

Outside of Atiki, I see anticipate big things from Richie Saunders. Richie was a pest defensively the whole season, and his shooting was more consistent by the end of the year. Over the last 5 games, Richie shot 8-15 (53%) from distance. Richie was a big-time shooter in high school and we finally saw that towards the end of the year. Now with a full-offseason ahead of him post-mission, I think we’ll see a version of Richie Saunders that shoots close to 40% from three and is BYU’s glue guys that creates second chance points with his hustle and tenacity.

Who is the starting 5 and how do minutes shake out?

As of today, here is my prediction for the starting 5.

5 — Aly Khalifa

4 — Fousseyni Traore

3 — Jaxson Robinson

2 — Spencer Johnson

1 — Ques Glover

That is three starters from last year’s team and a fourth, Dallin Hall, who would come off the bench. Regardless of the starting 5, a lot of players will be get minutes. I can see BYU going up to 11 or 12 players deep to start the year and being aggressive with their guards. I think BYU will press more and be aggressive defensively for a few reasons. 1) They have a lot of bodies and fouls to give in the backcourt, 2) causing turnovers is how you can reduce the talent gap, and 3) the Marriott Center and its altitude is BYU’s biggest natural advantage. Going 10+ guys may not be sustainable the whole year as most coaches tighten their rotations, but I think Pope will go with a longer rotation than most coaches due to the reasons mentioned above.

We know for high school recruiting, BYU has mainly been targeting Isaac Davis, Brody Kozlowski, and Malick Diallo for 2024. With Isaac committed already, where do we stand with other high school recruits? When are Brody and Malick expected to commit?

2024 could be a huge hit for BYU. BYU already has 4-star Isaac Davis committed, I consider BYU the front runner for 4-Star Brody Kozlowski, and BYU is among the contenders for 4-Star big man Malick Diallo. Another 2024 guy I’m watching is 2024 Texas guard Brooks Bahr. Bahr is a 6-foot-4 combo guard the recently received his first P6 offers from Wake Forest and Northwestern. He is LDS and his dad played football at BYU. BYU’s hasn’t offered Bahr yet, but I can see an offer coming in soon before he continues to rack up even more offers this off-season. Out of the four, Bahr may be the only one who goes on a mission.

Add Collin Chandler to the mix who gets home from his mission next year, and 2024 could be one of the best recruiting classes for BYU in the last 25 years.

You mentioned Noah Waterman is coming off the scholarship books after this year. Does that mean he did not get a redshirt for is time at Niagara?

Noah technically does have two years of eligibility left if he utilizes the medical redshirt from his first year at Niagara. However, next season will be his fifth year of college and I think he’ll just want to move on with his life and BYU will want the additional scholarship capital.

If Noah does move on as expected next year, he would join Ques Glover and Spencer Johnson as the three graduating seniors. Trevin Knell still has two years left due to the COVID year and redshirting last year, and I’m operating under the assumption he will use all six years. He is entering his fifth year and is the one player on the roster that has been with Pope for each of his seasons at BYU.