It was only moments after the end of BYU's basketball season, but assistant coach Dave Rose was already thinking ahead. "The next time we watch film of another team," said Rose, "we're not going to be trying to defend their five guys with five guys that aren't as good."
The Cougars enter the long off-season with hopes of building on what turned out to be a respectable first season for head coach Steve Cleveland. BYU's modest goal for this year was to simply make the WAC Tournament. The Cougars met that goal before losing on Tuesday to Tulsa. The goals for next year are obvious: Get better players and improve the ones already in the program."It would have been easy for a group of coaches who have been successful at all levels to get real negative," said Cleveland. "But that's the worst thing you can do. We need to always keep things positive in how we approach things. Then when you get a dose of reality and hard work, you can reach those goals. But in no way do I feel we're where we need to be yet. That's going to to take two or three years to establish the program here. But we're headed in the right direction. In some small way I think we kind of recaptured some of the magic of the program."
One thing Cleveland quietly allows is that next year's team won't be the same. Some will go on LDS missions, others won't be invited back. Cleveland has said since arriving at BYU that he can't allow everyone who was recruited by the previous staff, or all those who serve LDS missions, to expect a guaranteed spot.
Bart Jepsen, Talmadge Eyre and Chris Handy are all going on missions this year. Of more pressing concern is the future of starting forward Mekeli Wesley, who expects to decide within a month whether to leave on a mission or play another year.
If Wesley stays, the odds are good BYU will improve on its 9-21 season next year. Ron Selleaze, who led the team in scoring and rebounding, and was named All-WAC second team, will be back for his senior season. Also expected back are Brett Jepsen, a sophomore this year, who came on strong at the season's end, and Brian Hamilton, who started 15 games. Guard Danny Bower finished the year leading the team in 3-point shooting and is expected back for his senior year.
The Cougars should get a major boost from guard Mike Garrett, a transfer from Fresno City College. Garrett is a good outside shooter, a strong defender and will play both backcourt positions.
Last November Cleveland signed what he considers the two best LDS players available - Mark Bigelow of Olympia, Wash., and Daniel Bobik, Newbury Park, Calif. Bigelow is a good outside shooter while Bobik plays both guard positions. Bobik will go on a mission prior to enrollment at BYU, and Bigelow will be in the basketball program next fall.
While Cleveland wouldn't comment on his plans for specific players, the future is less clear for other members of this year's team. If Brian Dignan, who started 19 games, is back on next year's team, it probably won't be as a starter. The status of Jared Peterson, Jarkko Ahlbom, Lance Archibald, Robbie Yates, Tim Cannon and Aaron Bond - all players on this year's roster - is equally uncertain. Some or all could be gone next year.
Three players Cleveland said definitely will be in the program are returning missionaries Nate Cooper, David Nielsen and Todd Christensen. "There's been some rumors flying around about them, but they will all be in the program," Cleveland said.
Michael Vranes, who wasn't due to return until the 1999-2000 season, is back from a mission, having been released for medical reasons. He has had two foot surgeries since returning home. "No one knows his status," said Cleveland.
BYU finished the season 15th in scoring, 15th in field-goal percentage and 16th in 3-point percentage in the WAC. The Cougars didn't lead the league in any significant categories. They averaged 8,430 per game at home, sixth in the league. But they did draw the biggest crowd of the year (22,242) when they met Utah in the Marriott Center.
BYU set a school record for 3-point attempts.
The team's lone senior, Justin Weidauer, finished his career with 687 points. He was part of 50 wins and 59 losses - 46 of the losses coming in the last two seasons.
Cleveland said he will continue recruiting junior colleges heavily for now, but expects to eventually have a solid four-year program. In that light, he is visiting the Scenic West junior college tournament this week, then moving on to the California junior college playoffs next week.
"I think we need to find two or three more people, and this is the most intense time we will recruit community colleges. After that we'll be more selective at the community college level and the emphasis will be on recruiting on the high school level," he said. "You build your program with high school athletes, but with the situation we're in, the only way we can fix it for now is to go to the community college athlete."