Jonathan Tavernari is in the famed beach city of Rio de Janeiro, working on hoops twice a day as a member of Brazil's Olympic team. And the BYU junior, who never saw a shot he didn't like, reports that he's actually improved his outside shot.

And, get this, Tavernari claims he's improved his defense too. In an update on his summer via e-mail, Tavernari explained the state of his existence — body and soul — this summer.

Tavernari is Brazil's sixth man, and his coach, Moncho Monslave, has him playing the shooting guard position, coming off screens. Quite a switch from the power forward spot he's played for Dave Rose and the Cougars the past two years.

Tavernari is training with 11 other players in preparation for the World Pre-Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Athens, Greece, from July 14-20, where the top three teams will earn a spot in Beijing.

In typical Tavernari fashion, he's a talking, walking sound bite, words coming forth in bunches every minute, like a talking machine gun.

He is the only nonprofessional player on the Brazilian team. He is also the youngest.

"So I get picked on a lot off the court," he said.

His teammates include San Antonio Spurs' draftee Tiago Splitter, now with TAW Ceramica in Spain, and former Cougars' star Rafael Araujo.

"They treat me like their little brother," he said.

This Brazilian gig, Tavernari believes, will make him a better player.

"My outside game has gotten a lot better. My defense has improved, too. I'm having to defend point guards, shooting guards, wings. I mean, I really believe this will help me in my only personal goal this year — to be the best defender.

"Coach Rose and I have talked about this, and it'll be a challenge for me. I know I'll score — I'm a scorer, that's what I do — but my teammates, especially Lee (Cummard) and my coaches, have challenged me to be a stopper."

OK, JT, we'll see.

D-e-e-e-e-fense.

"I've set my mind on that for awhile," Tavernari said.

"My dribbling has to improve. Me finishing at the rim, too. But I also stay after practices working on my midrange game. Coach Rose will need me to be more KT-like (Keena Young) this year, and come Oct. 10, I'll be ready."

Brazil might start Tavernari — depending on matchups — he's been told.

"I like this, playing the two spot. I'm excited about all of this. I remember watching videos of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Karl Malone and the Dream Team driving around and fans following them. And now I'm part of that in my country."

Kids chase the bus as Tavernari looks out the window as police cars escort the team transport. People swarm to meet them at the hotel. Of course, Tavernari likes the legion of media hanging around practice and is already working the microphones.

"I mean, the whole hype and the big deal that's surrounding us is unbelievable. And I get a lot of attention because I'm the rookie on the team," he said.

"I was gonna play with jersey No. 9, (4+5), but coach asked me to be 14. The Great Oscar Robertson played with that number, so I'm like a kid on Christmas morning. He's a legend in my country."

This is the first return home to Brazil in two years for Tavernari, and he did get a week with his parents, aunt, uncle and cousins.

Tavernari knows he came close to being the most experienced returning starter for the Cougars next season, with Trent Plaisted opting for the NBA Draft and Cummard testing the draft waters until last Sunday.

Throw that topic at Tavernari and, naturally, he's got it covered.

"I texted Lee and told him he was trying to give me a heart attack. He's the most multitalented, best all-around does-everything player I've ever played with, and I'm excited to help him get a third (MWC championship) ring," Tavernari said.

"We joke around about him being a state champ in high school and me choking at Gorman, and me being rookie of the year and him being player of the year all the time. But I'm really proud of him, like a brother, for his success during the NBA workouts and his desire to finish our dynasty together."

Really?

"We would have been a preseason Top 25 team with Trent, and the Big Three would be one of the best frontcourts in the nation," Tavernari said. "But TP had to do what he had to do, and he knows I'm happy for him.

"The only difference between not having Trent is that we might not have a Top 25 ranking and a hyped frontcourt early in the season, but by the time March comes, people will know who Chris Miles, Gavin McGregor, James Andersen and Noah Hartsock are.

"Coach Rose and the rest of the staff — Dave Rice, Terry Nashif — will have us ready," he said. "And with great guards and wings that we have, plus the support of our Cougartown folks, BYU basketball will be fun to watch once again."

Down, boy.

I asked what folks could expect to see out of his game if he returns after international experience.

"Defense. Energy. Intensity. Killer instinct. Mental toughness. Togetherness. Unselfishness. Team player," he said with his famous confidence.

"Again, I know I'll score, that's how our offense works, but my focus will be on defense, on playing with my teammates, guarding as a team, playing 8, 9, 10 players off the bench," Tavernari said. "I want to succeed and win the (conference) tournament in Las Vegas, I want to be part of a consistent Top 25 team, dominate league play, go in opponent gyms and make shots, have fun with my teammates.

"I don't care about points or glory or any individual accolades," he said. "I want a third ring so bad, and the only stats I care about are rebounds and assists. I told Lee we are going to get him a back-to-back player of the year trophy. I can't wait to get back and play with my teammates again."

With all the talk about BYU, is he homesick at all, I ask.

"Man, you are going to make me cry right now. I miss everything about Provo, even the conditioning with Justin (McClure). My life, the people, the church, not paying a lot for phone service, my coaches, BYU, my teammates, everything. Provo is my home now. It has a special place in my heart, along with Vegas."

What else, JT?

"Mostly the people," he said. "But I miss the U.S. a lot. I miss Provo, Vegas, BYU, my teammates, Justin yelling at me, the weight room, the basketball camps, hanging out with Mike Loyd, Archie Rose and getting in arguments with Lee during pickups, the coaches, the school and, of course, my girlfriend."

I'll tell her.

That's a wrap.


E-mail: [email protected]