BYU basketball knows the woes of an inconsistent roster.
From year to year, the BYU coaches have players leaving on and returning from two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the 2016–17 basketball season has added a whole new level to BYU’s rotating roster dilemma.
At the beginning of the season, BYU thought it had 15 healthy players. They knew that forward Corbin Kaufusi, who also plays defensive lineman for BYU football, wouldn’t join the team until after the BYU football season concluded.
What the coaches couldn’t anticipate was that BYU transfer sophomore Elijah Bryant would undergo a minor knee surgery following the first five games of the season nor that senior Kyle Davis would fall victim to a season-ending knee surgery. Bryant’s procedure led to him missing 10 games as he went through rehab.
Now Bryant is back. Kaufusi is back. But BYU coach Dave Rose says coaches still don’t know when to rotate players in.
“I think they’ll be lineups in the game that will be different, that obviously we need to find good combinations of the right guys. It’s a tough time to be doing that in the middle of league play, but we’ll look forward to the challenge.” — Dave Rose, BYU basketball coach
“You just need to play some games and see how it all fits,” Rose said. “I think they’ll be lineups in the game that will be different, that obviously we need to find good combinations of the right guys. It’s a tough time to be doing that in the middle of league play, but we’ll look forward to the challenge.”
Since Davis left the team for surgery, BYU’s starting five has remained the same with senior L.J. Rose, sophomore Nick Emery, freshman TJ Haws, freshman Yoeli Childs and sophomore Eric Mika. Rose says the coaches approach each game and who will play according to who their opponent plays.
BYU’s coaches have tried multiple players coming off the bench as the sixth man. They’ve tried freshman Steven Beo and junior Davin Guinn as an alternate shooting guards. They’ve looked to sophomore Braiden Shaw to pick up the slack where Davis’ void was left in the post.
But now Bryant seems to be settling into the sixth-man position — but that may not be his permanent spot. He could disrupt the starting lineup.
“I love it. (I’ll do) whatever coach needs me to do to help the team be able to win,” Bryant said. “I think at the beginning of the season it wasn’t what I expected, but now that we’re in this situation, whatever I can give to the team to help us be more efficient.”
Since returning, Bryant has been one of BYU’s top scorers in four 0f the six games he’s played in, but Rose says he still has a ways to go before he will be back to the level of player he was in practices last year.
Despite the shifting rotation, the Cougars have been able to maintain a winning record (15–6, 6–2 WCC). Bryant says it is because the team is mentally savvy enough to make the wise choices in a game independent from who is on the court.
“I think our team, we haven’t played a lot together, but we know how to make the right play,” Bryant said. “So if I have a good shot, for a great shot, I’m going to give it up for the great shot. I think everyone on the team understands that.”
Players falling in and out of the “good to go” and “full speed ahead” categories has BYU stuck with a dangerous dilemma as they continue to wrestle with a consistent substitution plan half way through the season. What will it cost the young Cougar basketball team? A few wins? An NCAA bid? As Rose says, it’s probably a game-to-game decision.