PROVO — During the decade that BYU basketball associate head coach Tim LaComb has been with the program, he’s witnessed plenty of changes.
More changes have hit the Cougars since the conclusion of a disappointing 22-12 campaign — most notably star forward Eric Mika declaring for the upcoming NBA draft.
LaComb is fully aware that critics are casting doubt on how the program will fare next season as coach Dave Rose enters his 13th year at the helm.
Aaron Thorup, Deseret News
Despite all the offseason comings and goings, from the roster and the coaching staff, “the vibe is really, really good,” LaComb said. “The changes have been an exciting thing in a lot of ways. The heartbeat of the program is strong. The guys are motivated to be really good. I love when there’s a lot of negativity in the air and people write us off because that’s where we’re at our best.”
Mika, TJ Haws, and Nick Emery comprised the “Lone Peak Three,” and they had lofty expectations placed upon them in terms of what they could accomplish together at BYU after guiding Lone Peak High to a national championship in 2013.
In mid-May, Mika hired an agent and opted to keep his name in the draft. The Cougars will certainly miss the 20.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game that he posted last season.
Haws is happy Mika is pursuing his NBA dreams — but he’s also looking ahead.
“I’m very excited for Eric to keep moving on and keep doing his thing. But there’s no stopping here,” he said. “I feel like our team next year is going to be very good and I’m sure we’re going to play different basketball next year, which I think will be great for our personnel. We’ll be just fine. It’s pretty motivating as a player to hear that you’re not going to be that great without someone. We’re using that as motivation ... There’s a lot of energy right now. There’s a lot of excitement. Sometimes change can be a really good thing. I’m excited to get going this summer with everyone.”
In April, assistant coach Terry Nashif left the staff to take a job in the private sector. He was later replaced by Heath Schroyer, who had been an assistant at BYU from 1997-2001, when he oversaw the defense.
What impact will Schroyer have on the program?
“What I’ve seen so far has been great. He brings a lot of energy,” Haws said. “I’ve sat down and talked to him a little bit. He’s very intelligent. I like the way he thinks offensively and defensively. I really enjoyed talking to him about hoops and he brings a great perspective to this program.”
BYU Cougars guard Zac Seljaas (2) yells after hitting a three-pointer during the WCC tournament in Las Vegas Monday, March 7, 2016. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Meanwhile, BYU has seen the return of guard Zac Seljaas from a mission and the signings of sophomore Jahshire Hardnett, a 6-foot guard from Chipola College in Florida, and freshman Rylan Bergersen.
BYU will enter the 2017-18 season with six scholarship players returning — Haws, Nick Emery, Elijah Bryant, Yoeli Childs, Payton Dastrup and Braiden Shaw.
Ryan Andrus, Dalton Nixon and Luke Worthington have also returned home from missions.
LaComb is confident in what the Cougars can accomplish next season under Rose, who has won a total of 305 games in Provo — an average of 25 wins per season.
“One of the things, if you look at the history of coach Rose’s time here, one thing that’s stayed constant, is we’ve always put a really competitive product on the floor,” he said. “When I first got here, people asked me, ‘How are you going to win without Trent Plaisted? How are you going to win without Lee Cummard? How are you going to win without Jonathan Tavernari? How are you going to win without Jimmer Fredette? Jackson Emery? Tyler Haws? Kyle Collinsworth? Year in and year out, the constant is coach Rose.”
Now, people are wondering how BYU will do without Mika. The Cougars are expected to return to a more guard-oriented offense next season.
“Having Eric leave, a lot changes,” Haws said. “I think we’ll have more space and we’ll play more open and free. That’s really good for the personnel that we have and the guards we have.”
“Guys have a real excitement because with Eric making the decision he made, and we’re really happy for him and support him,” LaComb said. “But it’s one of those deals where people say, ‘Who’s going to replace all that?’ I think our reaction is, it’s what we deal with every year. You just get to work. We’re all getting familiar with each other and it’s been positive.”
Haws returned home from his mission in France in March 2016 and worked hard to get ready for last season. After averaging 13.8 points per game as a freshman, he has had more time to get stronger and hone his game.
“It’s a long process getting back in shape and getting your body to where you want it to be,” Haws said. “I feel like I’m much more ahead than I was at this time last year. I’m starting at a point that I want to start at. It’s huge for me and I’m excited for this offseason.”
BYU is still looking to reach certain benchmarks. In six seasons as members of the West Coast Conference, the Cougars haven't captured a regular-season or conference tournament championship.
BYU knocked off the No. 1-ranked Zags, and handed them their first loss, in the regular-season finale last February. It marked the Cougars' third straight win in Spokane. Then came the humbling 80-51 loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament semifinals.
After going to the NCAA Tournament for eight of nine years, BYU is coming off back-to-back NIT appearances. Last March, the Cougars were eliminated from the NIT in the first round at home by Texas Arlington, 105-89.
Many of BYU’s players have headed home for a break before they reconvene in late June.
“We’ll get guys here June 26 for the summer. We’ll have everyone that’s on the roster in school,” LaComb said. “We’ve had some really good signings that will help us. I have a lot of confidence in guys coming back. The mix of all that is really exciting for us.”
Could the Cougars add other players prior to the start of fall semester? BYU hosted a couple of prospects in May though no offers were extended.
“We’re always looking, always recruiting,” LaComb said. “We’re looking for the exact right fit. If we find that, we could add someone. As of now, there’s nothing imminent.”
As the Cougars experience an offseason of big changes, LaComb likes the direction the program is heading. “Things,” he said, “are in a really good place.”