With the recent addition of LJ Rose to the BYU basketball team and rumors of another transfer soon to be added, Cougar fans can breathe a sigh of relief that the 2016-17 roster is rounding into form and will be well balanced, despite the onslaught of guards and wings who have transferred away.
Now that the core of Nick Emery, Eric Mika, Elijah Bryant, TJ Haws, Payton Dastrup and Yoeli Childs have all been gathered on campus, this off-season marks a rare opportunity for BYU and its coaching staff. All the players listed above are set to play together for 3 straight seasons. Thus, each player can start to learn his role and with this rare continuity; hopefully they can take BYU to unprecedented heights in the seasons to come.
But, let’s look past that. What are cougar fans supposed to look forward to now? Where’s 'the future is bright' mentality going to come from? The answer to that question can be found on the (still growing) shoulders of Matt Van Komen.
Who is Matt Van Komen?
Matt Van Komen is a 7-foot-4 giant that plays basketball for Pleasant Grove High School. He lives in Lehi and just finished his freshman year playing basketball for the neighboring Pleasant Grove Vikings. He's part of the 2019 basketball class and hasn't committed to playing for any school, but with his size and growing skill-set, it may not be long until schools across the country are vying for his attention.
The Shawn Bradley comparisons are easy to make and are bound to be uttered countless times when it comes to discussing Matt Van Komen. He’s even met Shawn Bradley and received advice from him.
Being compared to Shawn Bradley is in no way a bad thing. Although Shawn Bradley didn’t necessarily pan out as a star in the NBA, he played 12 seasons and made about $69 million, according to basketball-reference. So it's not a death sentence to be compared to the guy.
Bradley had arguably the greatest one-year career at BYU before leaving on his mission. He went on to be the #2 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. He even had a role in the movie Space Jam next to Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan!
So he’s tall…
Basketball is a sport that requires so much more than height, but height is a skill that cannot be taught or learned. In fact, it is so rare that 17% of 7-footers in the world go on to play in the NBA, according to Pablo Torres in his 2011 Sports Illustrated study. Compare that number to only 0.07% of people between 6’6" and 6’8" going on to play in the NBA.
And let’s be clear: Matt Van Komen is not just another 7-footer -- he is well over 7 feet tall. Add in the fact he lives in the United States and is receiving good coaching, and may eventually get great exposure from NBA scouts -- and throw in the fact that both his parents played basketball at the collegiate level -- and I have to believe his odds are even higher than 17% to one day make it to the NBA.
So is he any good?
Well, he’s only been playing competitive basketball for about three years now. And at 15 years old, he definitely hasn’t grown in to his body. But what 15-year-old has grown into his body? Everyone is extremely awkward and uncomfortable in their own skin at that age.
Matt just finished his freshman year at Pleasant Grove and according to his Deseret News page, he played in 23 games and scored 45 points and hauled in 33 rebounds on the season. That averages out to about 2 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Not earth shattering production by any stretch of the imagination.
His best game was against East Catholic, WA where he scored 10 points and corralled 6 rebounds. Blocks weren’t recorded but it would be interesting to know what kind of impact he had defensively. His AAU coach was quoted by Darnell Dickson saying he used to block 7 or 8 shots a game and alter 7 or 8 more when he was playing on his 14 and under AAU team.
Does BYU have a realistic shot at landing him?
It's not often a player like Matt Van Komen comes around, and even less often he plays high school basketball about 20 mins away from BYU’s campus.
Van Komen does have a few connections to BYU. For starters, he is LDS and his Mom Lindsay played basketball at BYU for her senior season. He’s even been to at few BYU basketball games and got a photograph with Nate Austin.
There's no guarantee he’s ultimately going to be interested in BYU when it's time to pick a college, but at this point I would say that BYU appears to be in the driver’s seat to land his services. If he continues to develop, he’ll have every school in the nation interested in him and it would be an all-too-familiar story for Cougar fans if larger schools swooped in.
This is all assuming that Matt stays healthy, grows into his body and hones his skills on the basketball court, as we all hope he does, wherever he plays in college.
As premature as it is, I'm choosing to ignore the potential obstacles of him playing college basketball for BYU and instead dream of a day where he is blocking shots and finishing alley-oops as the Marriott Center roars in delight.