BYU may be the biggest question mark in NCAA Div. I basketball this season.
That sounds like an overstatement, but consider that the following facts are all that is certain about this team:1. It is big, with an average height of 6-foot-7. Even without 7-6 Shawn Bradley, it averages almost 6-6.
2. It is inexperienced, with only one returning starter - Steve Schreiner - from last season. Of the 14 players sure to make the squad, there are two seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. And three of the juniors are junior-college transfers.
After that, everything is conjecture.
Even Coach Roger Reid admits he has no idea how this team will perform.
"I know what to expect from Steve Schreiner, but other than that I have no idea what they will do," Reid said.
This isn't a Top 10 team returning a bunch of starters and expecting to enjoy continued success. BYU lost 10 players from the surprising squad that shared the WAC title last season. Andy Toolson is with the Utah Jazz; Marty Haws is in the Continental Basketball Association; Kevin Santiago, Steve Andrus and Paul Briggs graduated to the real world; Mark Durrant is on an LDS mission to Kentucky; Todd Crow, Todd Gentry and Alan Frampton defected to BYU-Hawaii; and John Lloyd is still at BYU but not playing basketball.
"We're sitting here just trying to learn an offense, and other teams have guys who have been playing together two or three years," Reid said.
The coach isn't even sure who will start the Cougars' exhibition game, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Marriott Center against a touring Belgian team. It's a warmup for the first official NCAA game, against East Tennessee State in the opening round of the Pre-Season NIT Tournament. That game will also be in Provo, on Wednesday night, and it should give BYU fans some indication of what to expect this season.
Along with Reid.
"If we started today, only Schreiner would be definite," Reid said recently. "We don't know who'll play and who won't. We could be juggling lineups and combinations right up to the start of the league season."
That means the Cougars have at least 13 games to figure out who can play and who can't. As it stands now, Reid said, there are nine or 10 guys who will get most of the playing time. And the people out on the floor at the start of the game may not get the most minutes.
"There hasn't been much difference yet," he said. "That makes it tough on a coach in one way, but it will also be nice to bring guys off the bench who are just as good as the starters."
Reid spoke highly of his freshman class, a highly regarded group that includes Bradley, 6-7 forward Kenneth Roberts of Bingham High School, 6-9 forward Jeff Campbell of Athens, Ala., and 6-8 forward Shane Knight from San Diego. Other newcomers to the program are 6-8 forward Jared Miller and 6-5 guard Keegan Kane from Ricks College, and 6-6 forward Robert Jones, a JC transfer from Chicago.
"There's been nobody who has disappointed me from the guys we brought in," Reid said of his recruits. "How they perform in a game is another thing, but they've been very good in practice."
Besides Schreiner, returnees are 6-5 guard Mark Heslop, 6-1 guard Scott Moon, and 6-9 forward/centers David Astle and Kirk Davidson. Back from missions are 5-11 guard Nathan Call and 6-10 center Gary Trost. Another guard on the roster is 6-2 Mark Santiago (Kevin's brother), trying to make the team as a walk-on.
Reid cited three players as being most impressive in practice: Roberts, Campbell and junior Call. Call was something of a mystery coming into this season. He played considerable minutes as a sophomore three seasons ago, then went on a mission to Bolivia. Toward the end of the mission he severely burned his leg, and it was unclear at the start of practice if he would be in shape for the start of the season. Now it looks as if he will figure prominently in a three-guard rotation with Heslop and Moon, returnees from last year's squad.
Reid didn't mention Bradley as being among the most impressive in practice, perhaps because Bradley missed several practices with tendinitis in his knee. Anyway, Reid warns that it would be dangerous to expect too much of Bradley right off the bat.
"He hasn't scored a single point yet, grabbed a rebound or blocked a shot. I've waited a long time to see him in a BYU uniform, but he's not going to be a superstar as soon as the first ball is tossed up."
One might expect that with so many talented youngsters, BYU could be expected to play inconsistently, showing flashes of brilliance as they learn the ins and outs of big-college basketball. That, however, is exactly what Reid doesn't want.
"The thing I'm most concerned about is making them a consistent team," he said. "I know one thing: If someone's not productive on the floor, I'll find someone else who will be."
BYU should open the season with no serious injury problems. Bradley's tendinitis has subsided, and Trost and Jones have been bothered by, respectively, shoulder and ankle problems, but everyone is expected to be healthy by the opener.