LOS ANGELES — Being a senior, BYU guard Brock Zylstra knows his college basketball career is drawing to a close.
For all that he has helped the Cougars accomplish the past three years, at least one goal still eludes him — capturing a West Coast Conference championship.
Sure, it's still October, and league play doesn't start until January. But BYU — and the other eight WCC teams — are eager to battle for that coveted title.
Zylstra said there's been a sense of urgency to improve throughout the offseason.
"This is my last year and I know I'm not going to have another chance to win a WCC championship again," Zylstra said Monday at the Time Warner Cable studios during WCC basketball media day. "I've got to try to rally the guys and get it done this time."
The Cougars finished third a year ago in their inaugural season in the WCC, behind Saint Mary's and Gonzaga.
"We didn't do everything we wanted to last year," Zylstra said. "Obviously, we feel like we can win this league if we play the way that we should. It's a competitive league, seeing Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, us, and Loyola Marymount. There are some great teams.
"Last year when we had big games come, we didn't finish them. We lost four out of our five games to Saint Mary's and Gonzaga. We lost one at home to Loyola Marymount. Those are the teams we need to beat if we're going to win this league. We need to win those games. The big thing is to step up when we need a big win."
BYU coach Dave Rose said that it helps that his team is familiar with the league, unlike last year at this time.
"I know the challenge of trying to win this conference. It's a big challenge," he said. "I have respect for all the teams in the league, especially those at the top. They are quality teams and we know all about it now, because we've been through it."
"When we were in the Mountain West Conference, we had a routine of where we would stay, how long it would take to get to the arena," Zylstra said. "It was a little different last year. That's not an excuse for games that we lost. But it's a more comfortable feeling now. We've seen what the league is like, now we're ready to win those big games."
Before conference play starts, though, the Cougars have a number of difficult tests, including contests against Florida State, Iowa State, Baylor, Utah State and Virginia Tech.
"We'll get a pretty good idea of what kind of team we are," Rose said. "You put the schedule together and you hope it's good for that team, that year."
The Cougars have already lost a pair of veterans to career-ending injuries — Chris Collinsworth and Stephen Rogers. Meanwhile, guard Anson Winder has been sidelined with an ankle injury.
Still, Rose likes his roster entering the season, which tips off on Nov. 9 at home against Tennessee State. The Cougars play another exhibition game Saturday against Findlay.
"I think our staff feels really comfortable with the depth of our team," Rose said. "What we really need to do is try to find the group of guys that play the best together. The talent level on our roster is pretty similar, pretty good. Trying to find the groups of guys that can play in certain situations will probably be our biggest challenge here in the next few weeks."
Forwards Brandon Davies, Nate Austin, Josh Sharp and Ian Harward provide the Cougars with a solid inside presence. Guard Tyler Haws, fresh off an LDS mission, has appeared to pick up where he left off before his mission. If anything, Zylstra added, Haws seems more aggressive now than he did before.
Meanwhile, Matt Carlino and Craig Cusick will be counted on to run the point guard position. Newcomers Agustin Ambrosino, Raul Delgado, Cory Calvert should make an immediate impact this season.
"They're fitting in. They're aggressive and confident," Zylstra said. "We're excited to have them. They will have a role on this year's team."
Zylstra added that the Cougars are already establishing an identity.
"I thought last year's team was well-rounded and pretty deep. This year, we're even more well-rounded and deeper," he said. "We've got guys that can come off the bench and defend and make shots."
For now, Zylstra isn't spending much time thinking about the fact this is his final season in a Cougar uniform. While he's too busy to wax nostalgic, the sense of urgency is there. Zylstra simply wants to help lead BYU to a big season, one that he hopes will include a conference championship.
"I've thought a little bit about this being my senior year. It's kind of surreal right now," he said. "It will probably hit me when I play my last game or once I finish. Right now, I'm just working hard, like any other year."
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