With the Duke Blue Devils freshly crowned as national champions and college basketball season now officially over, it only feels natural to look ahead to next season and what lies in store for our beloved BYU Cougars.
There's plenty to discuss. Dave Rose will oversee a significant influx in young talent, including one of the program's highest-rated recruits ever, as well as the return of All-American honorable mention Kyle Collinsworth. However, the boys in blue will also have to cope with losing one of the great players in school history, along with a slew of crucial role players who may not have had their names on the marquee but made a huge difference nonetheless.
So where does that leave things in Provo as the offseason preparations for next season begin anew? Let's take a look.
It would be a massive understatement to say that BYU is losing an important player in departing senior Tyler Haws. How do you even begin to replace the all-time leading scorer in program history? And while Haws' offensive skills are the stuff of legend and almost certainly irreplaceable, the loss cuts deeper than that. Not only was he one of the best shooters to ever play at BYU, but the Cougars are also losing an admired team leader that experienced an NCAA tournament win—leaving Collinsworth as the only player on the team to have made it past the first day of the tournament.
There could (and likely will) be multiple articles written about the staggering impact Haws has had on this program. He was a trailblazer in many ways — charting the course for how future missionaries could return strong to the court after a two-year layoff, setting a slew of records that will not soon be duplicated and leaving us with a collection of awe-inspiring memories that will live on for years to come. No matter how you try, there's just no replacing Tyler Haws.
Of course, Ty's not the only player exiting the program. Anson Winder is graduating, along with his consistent scoring ability and excellent on-ball defense. It was a shame he couldn't stay healthy for more of his senior season, particularly down the stretch. The Cougars needed his presence dearly as the stakes mounted, but Winder's body just would not cooperate. He leaves behind a host of great performances, and truly exemplifies everything you want a BYU player to be, both on and off the court.
Skyler Halford will also strike out on the open road. After a rocky junior campaign, he really came into his own this year and provided a huge spark off the bench with his hot shooting when the Cougars needed it most. He certainly had his fair share of detractors, and he had weaknesses like any other player (dribbling, most notably), but Sky's contributions undoubtedly helped BYU notch several key wins in 2014-15 — and that says a lot about the player he became.
Those are the three big exits. To be sure, there are several others — Josh Sharp, who hustled his butt off for every minute he spent on the court in a BYU jersey, and really helped transform BYU's defense when inserted into the starting lineup late in the season, is also graduating.
Several younger players are departing for missions, including big men Ryan Andrus and Luke Worthington, and slightly-less big man Dalton Nixon. All of them flitted in and out of the rotation over the course of the season, so it's hard to say their presence will be missed too much right away, but it will certainly be fun to watch their continued growth once they return in 2017.
In any event, replacing these seven players — especially Haws, Winder and Halford — will be a tough task for Rose. Thankfully, the coach has some serious talent coming in that could really help fill at least some of the void.
This list begins and ends with Kyle Collinsworth. He had a magnificent junior season, stuffing stat sheets all over the place and even tying the NCAA record for triple-doubles in a career over the span of just a few months. It was truly special to behold — and he still has one more year left. Sure, he's talked a bit about exploring opportunities to enter the NBA Draft, but I wouldn't take that too seriously. Scouts don't appear to be high enough on him as a pro prospect to guarantee him a spot as a first round pick, so I'd expect to see him back in Provo next year. And make no mistake, this will be Kyle's team. Full stop.
But he won't be without help. The sharp-shooting, smooth-talking West Virginian, Chase Fischer, will also return for his senior campaign. When Fischer gets locked in from deep, there's nothing more fun to watch on a basketball court. He turned in some truly exhilarating performances. The problem was, he also turned in more than a few clunkers. With Haws, Winder and Halford gone and a less experience supporting cast around him and Collinsworth, improved consistency will be key for Fischer (and, by extension, the Cougars) moving forward.
Corbin Kaufusi will also be back, and expect the big fella to see a lot of playing time. After breaking out in conference play, it appears he's finally figuring out how to play the game at this level, and it should be fascinating to see what kind of strides he can make over the summer with even more time to hone his skills. All the tools are there — and it's going to be borderline scary once he figures out how to put it all together.
And, oh yeah, Isaac Neilson, Jake Toolson and Frank Bartley IV should all be back as well. Each one of those players has some amount of soul-searching to do during the offseason to find where they fit in Rose's rotation heading into next year, but there's enough talent and potential here for Cougar fans to keep watching.
Thankfully, BYU won't just have to rely on returning players from last year's squad. (That would be a pretty thin team, after all.) Reinforcements are coming — and many of the most tantalizing options seem to be discarding crimson-hued shirts in their wake.
Kyle Davis will finally be eligible to play after sitting out this season following his transfer from Utah State. Davis is listed at 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds. He played a ton at Southern Utah under Roger Reid during his freshman season, and even started last season at Utah State, averaging 9 points and nearly 8 rebounds a game. Many people who watched BYU practice this year felt Davis was the best of the big men on the team and would have helped tremendously if he could have played. He will likely provide some much-needed depth on the frontline for the guard-heavy Cougars next year.
Similarly, UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes should also be available to help shore up the forward positions. Aytes was officially eligible to play beginning in December of this season, but a serious ankle injury sidelined him indefinitely and caused him to take a redshirt. Many were very excited to see the big bodied (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) Aytes contribute to this season's team. Although he's a bit undersized for his position, he is a powerfully built post player who finishes and rebounds through contact — something BYU desperately needs.
On the guard line, Jordan Chatman will also be eligible after spending his first post-mission year redshirting — a smart move considering he underwent offseason knee surgery and would have been stuck behind several more experienced players at his position. His greatest legacy so far is that he is the son of former Cougar great Jeff Chatman, who is 8th on the all-time BYU scoring list, so the bloodlines are certainly there. BYU should be getting a very lengthy defender, who is also a good ball-handler, passer and shooter. Sound like a helpful combo?
And lastly — but certainly not least, BYU is also hoping to secure a medical redshirt for the inimitable Nate Austin. After a troublesome hamstring tear forced the big man to miss more than two-thirds of the team's games, he should qualify for the hardship exemption and receive another season of eligibility, which would be a boon to Rose. Austin would add great leadership and experience on the frontline, while also bringing his trademark endless hustle, defensive prowess and rebounding ability. He was sorely missed this year, and it would be great to see him in uniform again.
This is where it all get a bit hazy, but still very, very exciting.
After what seems like at least a few decades of hype, speculation and prognostication, BYU fans will finally get their first look at heralded recruit Nick Emery in 2015. As one of the fabled "Lone Peak Three" (along with Eric Mika and TJ Haws) that won four straight Utah high school titles, as well as being named "national champions" by MaxPreps in 2013, Emery's debut marks the beginning of what many fans expect to be a new (and wildly successful) era in program history. (No pressure!) So for that reason alone, the Cougars should be appointment viewing for next season and many to come.
It doesn't hurt that Emery also figures to be really good at the actual basketball stuff, crazy expectations aside. He is primarily a point guard, but can also play off the ball — and seemingly will until Collinsworth exits the program. Nick has almost unlimited range, a lightning-quick release and the ability to create his own look off-the-dribble with ease. (Sound somewhat familiar to a guy who used to wear No. 32... OK, I'll stop.) Regardless, Emery was Utah's Gatorade Player of the Year in both 2011 and 2013 for a reason. This should be fun to watch.
Elsewhere, Cory Calvert is the only player returning from a mission who has previous experience with the team. Calvert suited up for the Cougars during the 2012-2013 season, when he averaged 1.9 points and 0.9 rebounds in 28 appearances. He figures to battle for backup point guard minutes with Chatman and (to a lesser extent) Emery — but with Collinsworth likely to play close to 40 minutes per night, there may not be much playing time to go around. It wouldn't be totally surprising to see Cory follow Chatman's lead and take a year off to get his body right and wait for more opportunities to open up.
There will also be a few new bigs in the mix. Almost nobody knows anything substantive about either Braiden Shaw (6-foot-8, 200 pounds) or Jakob Hartsock (6-foot-7, 205 pounds) other than that the latter is the younger brother of former BYU star Noah Hartsock. Both will also be coming off missions and hoping to add some additional depth to the frontline, but we don't have much to go on until we see them in action.
Well, freshman, really. The lone true freshman in the Cougars' Class of 2015 is Zac Seljaas of Bountiful — and he expects to compete for minutes this season before heading out on a mission of his own. At 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds, Seljaas is a really long, rangy wing player. He is excellent in the transition game, where BYU obviously thrives, but also has skills that will help in the half court game. He is a good shooter, has respectable ball-handling skills, and is an above average passer who can help his teammates find good looks. A Rose-led team can never have too many good shooters, so expect to see Zac — Utah's 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year, in his own right — find his way onto the court and get the chance to prove he belongs.
What To Expect
If you've been keeping score at home, you'll notice all of this adds up to 15 players on the roster for next season. And once you include perennial bench-warming walk-on Jordan Ellis in the mix, that number swells to 16. Given the glut of talent available, it wouldn't be surprising to see a couple players potentially choose to redshirt instead of burning a year on the bench — maybe Hartsock or Shaw, or even Calvert as floated above. And it's always possible that someone might be bumped to make room for priority walk-ons, with Ellis being the most likely candidate. Any way you slice it, there's undoubtedly some tough decisions to be made.
But what's perhaps most important in all of this is that there does appear to be some significant talent on the horizon that should help to at least partially offset the monumental loss of Haws and his fellow seniors. Collinsworth should have all summer to expand his game even further, and a full offseason of focusing on basketball could go a long way in helping Kaufusi continue to improve as well. Additionally, the infusion of Aytes and Davis should give Rose more options to shore up his previously anemic frontline, while Emery, Seljaas, Chatman, Toolson and Barley will undoubtedly wage a healthy competition to secure roles in the guard rotation.
So while the great Tyler Haws is sadly gone, and many questions remain to be answered, there is still ample reason for Cougar fans to feel excited and hopeful about the 2015-2016 season. And just think: it's only six months away!