PROVO — BYU coach Dave Rose admits that his program faces some uncertainties. The Cougars are preparing to enter their first season in the West Coast Conference. They’ve just lost senior guards Jimmer Fredette, the national player of the year, and Jackson Emery, one of the best defenders in school history, to graduation.
"There are a lot of unknowns going into the future," Rose said. One thing is certain — Rose, who signed a five-year contract extension Wednesday, will remain at the helm of a program that has won at least 25 games the past five seasons. One of the hallmarks of Rose's tenure has been embracing challenges, and he's eager to get back to work.
"Those are all things that are exciting to me, to get on to the next task," Rose said about those challenges. He added that he was "excited to get back in the gym" as his players would start individual workouts this week. Here are five questions facing the BYU basketball program:
Will Dave Rice leave BYU? It's looking like Rice, who has served as Rose's lead assistant the past six seasons, could land the UNLV head coaching job. While losing Rice would be a blow to the staff, Rose is very supportive of Rice and his career.
"Right now, I'm really excited for Dave because he is a candidate at his alma mater," Rose said. "We'll see in the next week or so how that plays out. He's very deserving of an opportunity to be a head coach. It's my personal opinion that he'll be a terrific head coach. Whoever decides to make that decision and hire him, whether it's this year or next year or some other time, they'll have themselves a great future because I have a lot of faith in him. Dave and (wife) Mindy are great friends of ours and we'd hate to see them leave. But if it's for an opportunity that they think it's great for them and their career, we'll support them 100 percent."
Rice has been an invaluable member of the staff, coordinating the team's offense and recruiting efforts. Asked about the possibility of Rice going to UNLV, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said, "There's great chemistry on this staff. Anything that would detract from that, or cause an end to that, would be something to overcome. It would be an obstacle."
If Rice does leave, who will be hired to replace him? Among the candidates, in no particular order, are former Cougar Austin Ainge, who is currently the head coach of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA's Developmental League; Quincy Lewis, who played for Rose at Dixie State College and has guided Lone Peak High to four state championships; and former Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer, who served as a BYU assistant with Rose under Steve Cleveland a decade ago.
What vision do Holmoe and Rose have of the future of the program? The way Holmoe sees it, the future is bright. The Cougars are coming off their first Sweet 16 appearance in 30 years and are looking to build on that accomplishment.
"I just have to smile," Holmoe said, when thinking about the future. "I was here when coach Rose was an assistant coach, and I saw what he did on that level. I know about his past and experience as a coach at the high school and junior college levels and as an assistant at the Division I level and as a head coach now. What we see is a continual climb. When we see that, we extrapolate into the future. We want to be able to be there and lay the groundwork for what he and his staff and players can accomplish. There will be a number of things that we'll look at that we haven't done in the (past), that we will be able to do in the future that we'll work toward. From this day on, we'll start to put those future plans and visions together."
"One thing that should be really clear is that our vision for this program is in alignment," Rose said. "We want to continue to put a great product on the floor, to be extremely competitive, to win championships and to qualify and advance in the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully that's what we can continue to do."
What voids and personnel issues will the Cougars have to deal with? At the top of the list is suspended forward Brandon Davies. As of Wednesday, Rose said he had not heard anything from the Honor Code Office regarding the status of Davies, who was suspended March 1 for an Honor Code violation. He sat on the bench during BYU's postseason tournament run and coaches have indicated that he would like to return to the program. A decision, and an announcement, is expected soon.
Then there's the matter of replacing the backcourt duo of Fredette and Emery, whom Rose referred to as "two really special guards." Meanwhile, freshman Kyle Collinsworth is leaving for an LDS mission. DeMarcus Harrison, high school star from South Carolina, will join the Cougars in the fall and is expected to make an immediate impact as a shooting guard. Nick Martineau and redshirt freshman Anson Winder will likely man the point guard spot, at least at the start of the season. Matt Carlino, a UCLA transfer, won't be eligible until the end of fall semester in December. Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo and Chris Collinsworth are among those who will return, and they will be joined by a pair of 6-foot-10 players who are returning home from missions: Nate Austin (a Lone Peak High product) and Ian Harward (who played at Orem High).
"I think we have a great core of players who are returning," Rose said. "I really look forward to the challenge of bringing that group together as a team and seeing how successful we can be next season. Right now, we're in the process of trying to evaluate our roster, which we do every spring and see what opportunities become available. The key right now is for our players to get into the gym, playing basketball and working on their game, and get them through finals and get them back here at the end of the month to start spring semester and really dive into our strength and conditioning program."
What will nonconference scheduling look like for BYU as a member of the West Coast Conference? One of the benefits of being a member of the WCC is the league's contract with ESPN, which has helped those teams with nonconference scheduling. BYU is hoping that it will be able to attract high-profile opponents to the Marriott Center. For now, Rose and his staff are putting the nonconference schedule together, and it is a painstaking process. The Cougars are set to play in-state rivals Utah and Utah State in 2011-12, but the rest of the schedule won't be released until later this spring or in the summer.
"We're kind of in an interesting situation right now. It's always been hard to schedule here, especially the level of schedule that we want to play," Rose said. "With the move to the WCC, we haven't seen any real difference yet. It's seems to be a challenge. Hopefully this spring we'll get some movement and be able to finish up our schedule. But in the next year or two we wil be able to kind of use our league to help us schedule preseason games that will be real exciting for the fans. Right now we're in the process of completing that schedule, with the majority of it done but still quite a few games to fill."