Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — With Brandon Davies finishing his eligibility and moving on to the National Basketball Association, the BYU basketball team has a big void to fill.
Fortunately for the Cougars, 6-foot-9, 230-pound freshman prep All-American Eric Mika is set to pick up the slack in the paint.
Coach Dave Rose is counting on the former Lone Peak High star to make an immediate impact.
“The expectation for Eric is huge. He’s come in with quite a reputation as far as his high school career, and his recruiting ranking,” Rose said Tuesday during annual media day festivities at the BYU Broadcasting Building. “It reminds me of (former Cougar) Mekeli Wesley, when he came in as a freshman. We’re going to throw him the ball and expect him to make positive plays. He spends a lot of time in the film room trying to learn the nuances of our offense.”
Mika, who has been working out with the team since June, is feeling acclimated, and he’s ready to contribute.
“I hope to definitely get some playing time,” Mika said. “Everyone’s going to have to contribute what they can. I plan on doing that and fitting into the system the best I can.”
“There are a lot of expectations for him, but he’s ready for them,” junior team captain Tyler Haws said of Mika. “He wants to have a big impact on this team. Yesterday in practice, he was getting after guys because he wanted the ball and he wasn’t getting the ball. For a freshman to have that type of mindset is big. He’s made a really good adjustment from the high school to the college level. He’ll make a big impact right away.”
While Mika’s game is different from Davies' game, Davies isn’t far from his thoughts.
“It’s a lot different because he played for four years,” Mika said. “I’m just starting in the system. But a lot of the drills we do, coaches will bring up how Brandon would do it. I always think about that.”
How does Mika describe his game?
“I like to run, which is what the whole team does,” Mika said. “I fit the system well, I think. I’m just your classic big guy that stays on the block, I guess. I don’t really venture out too much. It scares me out there right now. I just try to stay close to the rim.”
That’s music to Rose’s ears.
“We all project that he’s going to end up with the ball in his hands in the post a lot,” Rose said. “He’s a great runner, one of the best we’ve had at getting from end to end and being able to catch it and finish. With those experienced guards always looking to make that play to the big guy getting down the floor, there will be lots of opportunities for him for quick baskets in transition.”
“One thing that Brandon did that caused havoc for other teams was the way he ran the floor,” Haws said. “Eric does that better than anyone I’ve seen. He’s a really good finisher around the basket and wants to battle inside and get rebounds. He’ll provide a big presence for us inside, on both ends of the floor.”
Haws added that Mika is “definitely 'one of the guys' on and off the floor” already. “BYU and Lone Peak have a pretty close relationship. He was in the locker room and at a bunch of our games last year.”
Mika is one of six newcomers on the Cougar roster. Another freshman forward, Luke Worthington, sprained his ankle in practice and will be out for a few days, Rose said.
The other newcomers include guards Skyler Halford, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, freshman Frank Bartley IV, and Chase Fischer, who will sit out this season after transferring from Wake Forest. Guard Andrew Johnston and forward Graham Pingree, a pair of walk-ons, were added to the roster Tuesday.
Rose’s challenge is blending the newcomers with veterans like Haws, Matt Carlino, and Kyle Collinsworth. Collinsworth returned home from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Russia last spring after starting for BYU’s 2011 Sweet 16 team.
“It’s going to take a lot of patience on our part. We’ll rely on our experienced guys to bring them along,” Rose said. “The biggest challenge for young players in our program is to learn the system and be comfortable in it as soon as possible —especially our big guys.”
The Cougars opened practice Monday and will open the regular season at home against Weber State on Nov. 8. The Cougar Tipoff will be held Oct. 23.
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