I bumped into Matt Montague the other day at Home Depot in Lindon. One of the nicest guys in the world.
I remember back in 1996, Montague was part of the worst basketball season in BYU history, a one-game winner that started the season with Roger Reid and finished with Tony Ingle as the interim head coach.
I remember how accommodating Montague was after games, losses. Tough duty, locker rooms filled with disappointment and dread. He rose above it, Today Montague loves watching a Top 10 BYU team, a squad led by Jimmer Fredette, possibly the nation's best college player.
It is two different worlds of BYU basketball: From then to now.
"Those guys are good," Montague said.
Dave Rose has worked BYU into one of its most successful basketball eras ever. Wins are coming at an unprecedented rate.
The Rose formula has been simple: Build a foundation built on four-year LDS players who didn't take mission breaks, sprinkle in LDS players who leave and return from LDS missions, then successfully fill the gap by sprinkling in timely fixes (bridge players) from non-LDS players who can become stars.
Simple, but tougher than people might realize. The challenge has haunted successful BYU pilots like Frank Arnold, LaDell Anderson, Roger Reid and Steve Cleveland in the modern era.
The key is recruiting. The cement is chemistry.
"The philosophy is to recruit every position every period," said Rose. "You make sure you have guys in the pipeline, so if you get surprised one way or another you have a way to make up for the change.
"Sometimes that gets us into awkward situations because we may end up without a scholarship when we thought we had one or end up with one when we thought we didn't.
"But the key is to recruit every position so you are ready for whatever happens."
In this shuffling, Rose has been a master.
"We've been very fortunate," he said. "We've had players come in and play at a high level and others come in and adjust to a position because of missions. Maybe they thought they'd play one position and had to play another because of a mission. It says a lot to the quality of our kids."
Rose took over a 9-21 program in 2005 and immediately posted a 20-9 record for the 2005-06 season, the second best turnaround in college basketball for that year. He did so on the back of freshman Trent Plaisted and transfer Keena Young.
Remember when senior-transfer, returning missionary Ben Murdock started over freshman Jimmer Fredette? It takes some remembering, but there was the day. While now it looks like Rose should have gambled and given the point guard job to Fredette, it was actually part of a recruiting game plan that gave Rose a foundation for the success he enjoys today.
Since Rose took the BYU job, he is 149-42, with seasons of 20-9, 25-9, 27-8, 25-8, 30-6 and now 22-2 heading into Wednesday's game at the Air Force Academy.
The blending of talent and chemistry is huge in BYU's challenge of managing departures for church service.
It's interesting to see how these Rose teams were built the past six seasons.
LDS four-year players: Trent Plaisted (early NBA draft as a junior), MWC player of the year candidate Lee Cummard; Johnathan Tavernari (All-MWC), Jimmer Fredette, national player of the year candidate, and Brandon Davies.
LDS missionaries: Jimmy Balderson, Ben Murdock, Tyler Haws (left in 2010), Noah Hartsock, Chris Collinsworth, Jackson Emery, and Stephen Rogers.
Non-LDS bridge players: Keena Young (MWC player of the year), Rashaun Broadus, Lamont Morgan, and Mike Hall (2005 MWC all-defensive team).
"It works because when you come off a mission, you aren't ready, and it helps to have guys like Lee, Jimmer or guys who have been in the program, or JC guys who can contribute right away," said senior Jackson Emery, who has been part of Rose's success from the start.
"It's not like he has a farm and has to plant seeds and wait for it to grow. It's the perfect storm where you're going to have these guys to build on for several years and then have guys come in who don't have to contribute right away. Then you figure the pieces and make them fit."
Rose has gambled that a guy like Emery can leave, return, and still be good.
He's also avoided emotional meltdowns that kill chemistry, like you see on squads with out of control egos in shorts.
Emery said, "The hardest thing is dealing with the scholarship thing, seeing who is coming off missions, who is going, what position is needed now, what is needed later. All those variables make things complicated but I think coach is really good. Where some plan year to year, here at BYU you have to recruit pretty much a four- or five-year plan. It puts a pretty big twist on the recruiting process."
According to Emery, Rose uses great communication skills with players, and it avoids creating drama as year to year the Cougars change faces more than other schools may.
If you leave a player in the dark as to his role, it can cause expectations that aren't reality. And Rose nips that quickly, said Emery. He did it with Plaisted and Cummard, and has done so with Tavernari, Emery and Fredette.
"The player knows what he has to live up to, not only this season but the next," said Emery. "At BYU, you recruit not only good players but good people. You have to be a good person as far as work hard in school, live the honor code, et cetera, et cetera. With those type of high class people you know there is going to be less drama because they are understanding and willing to work together and I think that is a pretty big factor in why we get along."
Like at Air Force?
"Exactly. At Air Force, their players are good guys. They are disciplined, and they understand their roles and are happy to be on the team and be playing. It's a similar position to what we have, although, I think they have to endure more discipline off the court in school."
What if Tyler Haws was not in the Philippines right now?
"Yeah, I think about it," said Emery. "But what if Lee had gone on a mission? This would probably be his last year. There are always what-ifs; what-if Plaisted had gone on a mission, what would this year be?
"You can think about what-ifs with everything. How good would we be with Mike Loyd right now, if he was still here?
"But that's just basketball. You can't worry about it. Michigan State went to the Final Four and kicked off four players the next year. You can only worry about who you have."