When BYU announced on Monday that guard Frank Bartley IV and forward Isaac Neilson would be leaving the basketball program, I can't say I was entirely surprised — at least not for the same reason it seemed many others were.
There's a completely rational case for both Bartley and Neilson to seek to continue their careers elsewhere. Neither player had been able to consistently crack Rose's rotation, and with an incredible amount of talent at virtually every position ready to file into the program over the next two seasons, it's only natural for young players to assess the probability of their situation improving and, after finding their prospects to be dim at best, ultimately deciding to move on.
As BYU fans, we should obviously wish Frank and Isaac nothing but the best in their new locales, wherever they may be. They put in a lot of time and hard work to make this team better, and to give us an exciting on-court product worth watching and rooting for. And for that effort and sacrifice, we should be grateful. Hopefully they can find the fit they're looking for somewhere else.
But while neither transfer was particularly earth-shattering and we wish both players well, Bartley's exit, in particular, raises interesting issues worth discussing — and maybe even some questions in need of answering, particularly as they pertain to the state of coach Dave Rose's program moving forward.
If you'd asked me to bet on which BYU player, if any, was most likely to transfer after this past season, my (reasonably confident) answer would have been Bartley. A gifted athlete with mounds of untapped potential, Frank was just never able to find a way to put it all together in Provo. To be sure, he had flashes of brilliance — but they were too brief and too inconsistent to merit consistent playing time.
And let's be clear: when Bartley was bad, he was really bad. It wasn't unusual for him to look like he was completely over his head out on the court — like he couldn't even execute the simplest of basketball maneuvers. In that light, it's weirdly fitting that his last game in a Cougar uniform featured him inexplicably falling over while dribbling the ball up the court against zero pressure, thus gifting Ole Miss a breakaway dunk and hastening BYU's depressing tournament demise in the process.
In all likelihood, the prospects for Bartley's playing time were not going to improve next year. With Kyle Collinsworth, Chase Fischer and Jake Toolson returning, and Nick Emery, Jordan Chatman, Cory Calvert and Zac Seljaas entering the program, competition for minutes on the guard line figures to be heated — and it will only get worse in 2016-2017 when TJ Haws returns from his mission. After two years of failing to crack Rose's rotation, Bartley undoubtedly (and reasonably, in my opinion) saw the logjam and figured he would find it less frustrating to get minutes in another program.
But while Bartley's exit makes sense from a basketball perspective, it raises curious questions elsewhere. Since the 2008-2009 season, BYU's teams have (by my count) featured nine non-LDS players. A staggering five of those players left the program prior to exhausting their eligibility — and a sixth (Anson Winder) seriously considered transferring before ultimately deciding to return for his senior season. That's a significant proportion, by any measure.
Of course, this is the part where I should say that correlation does not equal causation. There is no apparent evidence that the faiths of these departed players factored into their transfer decisions in any way. It's entirely possible that this is all just a giant coincidence — but it's also entirely possible that it's not.
We can't know for sure, but the problem is that the lack of evidence may not matter. If there's even a whiff of a perception that Provo is a difficult place for non-LDS players to succeed, that could potentially have a very real impact on Rose's recruiting efforts moving forward.
Think about it: If you're an opposing coach attempting to woo a non-LDS recruit who is also interested in BYU, there's a 99.9 percent chance that you're going to find a way to casually mention the fact that five of the Cougars' last nine such players have left the program early. It may not be right, but it's how the recruiting game is played — and that could present a new challenge for Rose.
Again, I'm not attempting to pass judgment on the state of Rose's relationships with his non-LDS players. I simply don't have the information to do that — and I never will. But in and of themselves, the numbers — particularly following Bartley's transfer (which was reportedly the player's choice and caught the coaching staff by surprise) — don't look great right now. And even the slightest appearance of a problem could create a new headache for the coach that he'd rather not deal with on the recruiting trail.
So while Bartley's absence likely won't matter too much on the court next season, his exit may have ensured that his presence is felt in other, potentially more troublesome ways moving forward.