Dave Rose has a decision to make.
The celebrated BYU basketball coach is facing a conundrum — he currently has 17 active players on his roster heading into Friday's season opener against Long Beach State, and he only has 200 total minutes per game to distribute between them. Talk about a logjam — at virtually every position.
But in reality, the conundrum is even more complex than that. The team's stars, Tyler Haws and (once fully healthy) Kyle Collinsworth, will each occupy at least 35 minutes per game on their own — meaning that Rose really only has 130 minutes to farm out to 15 players.
If he were to play everyone equally, that would mean each player would get just over 8 minutes a night, but we know that's not what's going to happen. Some will play much more than others, and several probably won't play at all. There just aren't enough minutes to go around — which means Rose would be wise to strongly suggest that several players (particularly young ones) consider taking a redshirt rather than burning a whole year of eligibility sitting on the bench.
All of which brings us to the curious case of Jake Toolson. The Gilbert, Ariz., product wasn't supposed to be on the Cougars' roster this season. He only enrolled in school after an anxiety disorder prevented him from serving an LDS mission immediately after high school graduation as originally planned. Toolson chose to walk on to this year's squad after finding that BYU's 13 scholarships were all otherwise committed.
Make no mistake: Toolson is a big time talent. Just because he's paying his own way this season doesn't mean he's some borderline prospect that Rose salvaged off the junior college scrap heap. He averaged 27.3 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game during his senior year at Highland High School — eye-popping numbers by any metric. He was heavily recruited by high-major programs like Arizona State and Boston College, as well as by perennial mid-major powers like Utah State and Saint Mary's. But he ultimately chose BYU, and if all had gone to plan with his mission, he was slated to be a scholarship player beginning in the 2016-2017 season, primed to play a significant role on what figure to be some of the most talented teams the Cougars have ever fielded.
But life has a funny way of throwing wrenches in even the best-laid plans — and so now Jake Toolson is in Provo two years ahead of schedule, battling for minutes as a walk-on on a crowded roster with an even more jam-packed backcourt. He'll have to jostle for time on the perimeter with the likes of Chase Fischer and Anson Winder (both guaranteed to play a lot), Frank Bartley IV and Skyler Halford (perilously close to becoming bench warmers if their poor preseason play continues), and fellow freshman Jordan Chatman (a prime redshirt candidate if there ever was one). How does Toolson fit in with that group? Or should he redshirt and save his eligibility for future campaigns?
That's the question Dave Rose must answer.
To me, there's no question Toolson can bring something significant to the table for this team. Even in the early going, he's shown that he can provide a much-needed scoring punch off the bench. In his first game in a BYU uniform, Jake was the team's third-leading scorer (behind Haws and Fischer) against Colorado School of Mines — dropping 12 points in 19 minutes of play, and looking comfortable and aggressive while doing it. He knows how to get his own shot on offense, and he can splash home open threes at a decent clip when the ball is swung to him — a capability that's been sorely lacking in Provo in recent years. There are some legitimate concerns about his defensive capacity at this point (like most freshman, he frequently looks a bit lost on that side of the ball), but he could offer Rose a nice option as an instant offense, "microwave"-type scorer off the bench.
The question is whether or not that's a role Rose is concerned with filling. There are certainly other candidates for those minutes, chief among them Bartley and Halford. Each has his own strengths, and though I would personally put Toolson above both based on preseason performance alone, the upperclassmen do bring the added heft of previous collegiate game experience — something that a freshman simply cannot match. We can't really judge how Toolson will handle big-game situations, because he hasn't dealt with one yet. We know how Halford and Bartley respond, and while their results may not necessarily always be positive, they are at least known quantities.
All in all, this decision comes down to how much Rose wants to roll the dice. He could take a chance on an untested but clearly talented freshman in Toolson and potentially be rewarded with the bench scorer that BYU has lacked — or Jake could struggle to find his place and end up needlessly burning a year of eligibility sitting on the bench. The alternative is to redshirt Toolson and gamble that Bartley and/or Halford will be able to get their act together and provide some kind of consistent contribution — which is far from a guarantee. If they can't and Toolson sits the year out, Rose could potentially find himself stuck with yet another top-heavy team with limited offensive options off the bench.
I don't know what the correct answer is, and I don't envy Rose's position. There are several legitimate paths forward, and each brings considerable pros and cons, which makes the decision all the more difficult. If it were up to me, I would probably roll the dice with Toolson, if only because the last few seasons have made clear that BYU needs more firepower on its second unit and I have yet to see anything that would indict Bartley or Halford can reliably produce when called upon. (It also doesn't hurt that Jake's talent level is so obviously high.) But then again, I don't get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to coach Division I basketball, nor do I have any Sweet 16 runs to my name — so take my analysis with the appropriate heaping helping of salt.
In the end, Rose will have to make his decision. Does he stick with the guys he knows and hope they can figure it out? Or does he let it ride on a talented freshman who could either make him look like a total genius or partially hamstring his future plans for the program?
Either way, we can all look forward to finding out just how much of a gambling man Dave Rose is — and we should know by Friday evening.