PROVO — One dealt with a high-profile suspension, and established himself as one of the most prolific players in BYU basketball history. One is a walk-on that recently knocked down a memorable game-winning shot. One is a walk-on that earned a scholarship and became a two-year starter. One was stabbed during his LDS mission, then saw his hoops career shortened by various injuries. One is a sharp-shooting junior college transfer who missed his final season due to an injury.
These five Cougar players have traveled five very different paths. And all five will be honored together on Senior Night.
Seniors Brandon Davies, Brock Zylstra and Craig Cusick will be playing their final regular-season home game at the Marriott Center Thursday (9 p.m. MT, ESPN2) when BYU hosts No. 2 Gonzaga.
Meanwhile, two other seniors — Chris Collinsworth and Stephen Rogers — didn't play a minute for the Cougars this year due to career-ending injuries before the season tipped off.
"All five of them came in at different times — they all came in in different situations," said coach Dave Rose. "They were all able to accomplish a lot of the same things. All played in an NCAA tournament game and all of them were able to win a conference championship. Those are things those kids will remember forever. They've all had different challenges they've had to overcome. You're always proud of the guys who come through. This class is pretty unique because they all came in at different times, in different circumstances. And they're all leaving in interesting circumstances, too."
After Collinsworth's freshman season in 2007-08, he served an LDS mission to Australia, where he was viciously attacked. He recovered, but he suffered several injuries after returning to BYU. Rogers began his career at Arizona State before transferring to Mesa Community College and ending up in Provo. A knee injury prevented him from playing as a senior.
Davies, meanwhile, is No. 12 all-time at BYU in scoring (1,564 points), No. 11 in rebounds (775), No. 5 in blocks (120), No. 10 in steals (126) and No. 5 in wins played in (103).
Two years ago, when the Cougars were ranked No. 3 in the nation and poised to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Provo native was suspended as a result of an Honor Code violation.
Davies' suspension, and the circumstances surrounding it, made headlines nationally and internationally.
BYU wound up reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years that season, as Davies watched from the bench. Many believe the Cougars could have advanced further with Davies in the lineup.
While Davies could have transferred after the ordeal, he worked hard to put himself in good standing with BYU so he could be readmitted to school.
"You have all kinds of experiences with your players at different times on all your teams. Some you'd like to forget and some you'll remember forever," Rose said. "The thing that's so impressive with this situation is how determined Brandon was to make it right."
Rose is impressed by the way Davies has persevered through adversity.
"He's been challenged in so many different ways. And he's played a different role on each team," Rose said. "For him to be able to rise to the occasion each time after a disappointment after his sophomore year shows a lot of character. It shows a bright future for him, to be able to overcome tough obstacles and finish strong."
Zylstra, a former walk-on from La Verne, Calif., received the most improved player award from his coaches after his junior campaign. One of his most memorable games came when he went 8-for-8, including six 3-pointers, last season against San Francisco.
"It's surreal right now. I don't really know how to explain it," Zylstra said of Senior Night. "Maybe when we're out there getting our flowers for our moms and our wives, I think that's maybe when it will hit me a little bit. But as of now, it's crazy to think this will be my last game."
Cusick, a walk-on from Orem, leaped into the national spotlight last week when he hit a dramatic buzzer-beater against Utah State. Earlier in the day, Cusick learned that his dad, Randy, had been diagnosed with cancer.
"It's crazy to think this is the last (home game)," Cusick said. "For any senior, you go through that and you never think it's going to come. But it is here. I couldn't be more grateful for the career I've been able to have here. It's been a dream come true. I was a walk-on and I've been fortunate to move into significant minutes. I'm grateful for the opportunity that coach has given me to prove myself. Now we just need to finish the season strong and make it to postseason play."
Cusick has hit plenty of clutch shots for the Cougars the past couple of seasons. He said he doesn't dwell on the walk-on label.
"Being around the team for three years now, it's past that," Cusick said. "We all feel part of the team and we're all treated the same way, whether you're a walk-on or a scholarship player. That's not what motivates me. My teammates and my coaches are what motivates me to come out and play my hardest for them every day."
It's likely that Cusick, Zylstra and Davies will play at least one more time at the Marriott Center because the Cougars are expected to play at home in the NIT next month.8 comments on this story
Because BYU is facing one of the top teams in the country Thursday, this contest "drowns out the feelings of it being my last game here," Davies said, but he added that "it has a lot of sentimental value to it."
Thursday will provide the trio with a chance to reflect a little on their disparate careers in Provo.
"It's been a long ride. But it's been nothing but positive and exciting for me," Davies said. "I wouldn't rather be anywhere else. I love my teammates and the coaches. It's been a great ride here at BYU."
Cougars on the air
No. 2 Gonzaga (27-2, 14-0) at BYU (20-9, 9-5)
Marriott Center, Provo
9 p.m. MT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM