In 1856, American Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier penned “Maud Muller” that spawned a famous quotation. The poem ends with these words: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been!”
After BYU lost to Florida in overtime on March 24, 2011, to barely miss out on the Elite 8, Cougar head coach Dave Rose said: “We just needed to make a few more shots. I mean, if we make a few more shots, get another rebound or two here, we’re talking about a different story.”
Like a national championship story. It might have been, it legitimately might have been.
But here’s the twist: Perhaps the “might have been” didn’t have as much to do with what happened on the court as it did with those who didn’t take the court that game — Tyler Haws, Brandon Davies and Michael Loyd Jr.
Rose said his guys “just needed to make a few more shots” against the Gators. He was being modest. In truth, they needed to make just one more shot, and they had some choice opportunities.
Freshman star Kyle Collinsworth missed a free throw with 44 seconds remaining that, as things played out, would have won the game. College basketball megastar and eventual national player of the year Jimmer Fredette made only 11-of-29 shots, including 3-of-15 three-pointers. Noah Hartsock, Jackson Emery and Charles Abouo combined to shoot just 8-of-26 from the field.
Yet, despite all that, Jimmer and the guys were a single point away from ballin’ into the Elite 8.
Now, envision this: What if the 17 minutes played by Stephen Rogers versus Florida had been played by Haws? Or if the 23 minutes played by Logan Magnusson and James Anderson had been played by Davies? Imagine if Fredette, Hartsock and Collinsworth, who between them had only 11 minutes of rest in a 45-minute overtime game, would have had some fresher legs because Haws, Davies and Loyd Jr. would have been there to help shoulder the load?
They would have made that extra shot. They would have gotten that extra rebound. It probably wouldn't have even come down to that. There would have been no talk of what-ifs in Rose's postgame press conference.
BYU would have been in the Elite 8.
A game against eighth-seeded Butler would have been next. Not to say Butler would have been a cakewalk, but it is not very often a team gets to play a No. 8 seed to punch its ticket to the Final Four.
With a win over Butler, the only thing left in BYU’s path to the title game would have been 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth. If playing a No. 8 seed to get into the Final Four would have been a rare opportunity, what would playing a No. 11 seed to get into the title game be?
With a victory over VCU, Jimmer and the Cougars would then have taken on Kemba Walker and third-seeded Connecticut for all the marbles. Connecticut, which ultimately won the title, had a good team, but the Huskies were also one of the most vulnerable national champions in a long time.
The title game between Connecticut and Butler was considered by some as so revolting, so historically unpleasant, that it was genuinely painful to watch. The teams combined to shoot 26 percent from the field with only 31-of-119 shots finding the net.
It was like listening to Miss Teen South Carolina talk about finding the U.S. on a map, only without the attractiveness and humor.
Even Walker, the Robin to Jimmer’s Batman in college basketball that year, was unimpressive in going 5-of-19 from the field with no assists.
BYU would have had a decent shot to beat Connecticut using only the same players they had against Florida. With Haws, Davies and Loyd Jr. in the huddle, that group of Cougars beats that Connecticut team eight out of 10 times.
BYU had all the pieces it needed to have a real shot at a national title in 2011. Some of those pieces just didn't make it to the arena.
Davies didn’t play due to his well-publicized dismissal for an honor code violation.
Loyd Jr. didn’t play because he left the program.
The loss of Loyd Jr. probably wouldn't be considered as important as Davies or Haws by most people, but he did rise up big time for BYU in some marquee games the year before, including the double-overtime win over Florida in the NCAA Tournament.
Haws didn’t make the court for the tournament run because he was in the Philippines serving a mission for the LDS Church.
While Haws wasn't there to help contribute, how much exposure would a college basketball national championship have brought to the church and BYU?
After all, isn’t that why BYU went independent in football with broadcast partner ESPN?
Maybe Jabari Parker would be furthering that exposure right now wearing a different shade of blue. Probably not, but BYU would have been more recent national champs than Duke.
The core of that team included: Fredette, arguably the greatest Cougar baller ever, in his senior year; Emery, arguably the greatest Cougar perimeter defender ever; Davies, one of the most accomplished big men in Cougar history; Hartsock, a guy that led the West Coast Conference in scoring and blocked shots his senior year while shooting 57 percent from the field, and Collinsworth, a highly touted all-around freshman that lived up to his reputation. Charles Abouo had his moments too.
The addition of Haws would have made for an awfully good team.
Indeed, if poet Whittier had been a BYU fan in 2011, he would have been heartbroken.
Cougar fans got a big bite of something tasty in 2011. They liked it. The opportunity was there, however, for them to feast on the whole enchilada, to fry the biggest fish, to take the cake. The ingredients were in the cupboard, some just didn't make it into the batter.
In the movie "The Sandlot," Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez had a dream where "the Sultan of Swat," Babe Ruth, told him that in life “everybody gets one chance to do something great.”
The season of 2011 brought such a chance to the BYU men’s basketball team. It could have been quite a thing for the school and its fans. That chance slipped away into the realm of what “might have been.”
Is it possible such an opportunity could come again to the private, religious school from Provo?
Part 2 of this series will feature commentary on the 2011 team from an exclusive interview with Emery, the star shooting guard on that team. Part 3 will take a detailed look into the future of BYU basketball.
Nate Gagon is a published sports, music, and creative writer. He is also a wholehearted father, grateful husband and ardent student of life. He shoots 94 percent from the free throw line and can be reached at: email@example.com or @nategagon.