I actually really like where the team will go forward from here. They certainly would be better with Mika here. But I believe they can reach their goals and do the things they want to do even without him. —Steve Cleveland
PROVO — Now that the Eric Mika Era has officially ended after two seasons, coach Dave Rose’s BYU basketball program must move on and figure out how to compensate for a major void in its lineup.
Yes, it’s time for a new look and a new approach for the Cougars.
All things considered, it’s a big reset for BYU hoops. The roster and the style of play are undergoing major changes going into next season.
The 6-foot-10 Mika announced Tuesday that he is signing with an agent and is remaining in the June 22 NBA draft. Mika played even better than expected last season just months after returning home from his LDS Church mission to Italy. He averaged 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
While Mika will be sorely missed, the Cougars are returning several proven players and they're adding some intriguing newcomers.
The hype that has surrounded the so-called “Lone Peak Three” of Mika, Nick Emery and TJ Haws — who won a high school national championship in 2013 — has come to an abrupt conclusion.
In the one season with those three stars playing together, the Cougars posted a disappointing 22-12 campaign that included a third-place finish in the West Coast Conference, capped by a home loss in the first round of the NIT.
Along with Mika's departure, the Cougars are experiencing changes on the coaching staff as well. Last week, Rose hired Heath Schroyer to replace former assistant Terry Nashif. Schroyer, who oversaw BYU’s defense in his first stint in Provo from 1997-2001, is expected to bring back a hard-nosed defensive mindset, something that has been lacking in recent seasons.
Former BYU basketball coach, and current BYUtv analyst, Steve Cleveland, told BYU Sports Nation Wednesday that he’s optimistic about what the Cougars can accomplish without Mika.
“My gut feeling my opinion is (Mika’s) experience here was a difficult one. I think there were some really unrealistic expectations on these young people. They’ve gone through some withdrawal,” Cleveland said. “And I think what’s going to happen now is they’ll come together. There’s a new staff, a new opportunity to establish an identity and a culture. I actually really like where the team will go forward from here. They certainly would be better with Mika here. But I believe they can reach their goals and do the things they want to do even without him.”
Without Mika, the Cougars have only six scholarship players returning next season — Emery, Haws, Elijah Bryant, Yoeli Childs, Payton Dastrup, and Braiden Shaw.
BYU welcomes back four players from LDS missions — forwards Ryan Andrus, Dalton Nixon and Luke Worthington, along with guard Zac Seljaas, who is rejoining the program after coming home from his LDS mission with a shoulder injury.
As a freshman, Seljaas averaged 7.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He shot 49.4 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range, a single-season record for BYU freshmen. Seljaas drilled 68 3-pointers as a freshman, the third most by a Cougar freshman behind Emery (97 in 2015-16) and Haws (76 in 2016-17).
Now that Mika's scholarship has been freed up, the Cougars are expected to sign another big man before the 2017-18 season.
During the spring signing period, BYU signed a pair of guards, Rylan Bergersen and Jahshire Hardnett. A 6-foot guard from Gulfport, Mississippi, Hardnett averaged 13 points, 3.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals at Chipola College in Marianna, Florida. He is a sophomore and he has three years of eligibility remaining.
BYU is expected to return to a guard-oriented offensive attack next season, with Haws (13.8 ppg), Emery (13.1) and Bryant (11.7).
“Coach Rose has an established program here. They have a guard line that’s the best in the WCC and with experience now,” Cleveland said. “There’s no team in this league that has the depth and the talent of this guard line and they’re going to get better.”
Cleveland believes Mika’s exit should take a lot of pressure off of Emery and Haws in terms of the unrealistic expectations heaped upon them.
“I think that cloud’s been hanging over them. They’ve taken more abuse and more criticism from the outside and from supporters of BYU,” he said. “That all goes away now. TJ Haws and Nick Emery are really good players. Zac Seljaas is a really good player. Elijah Bryant is a very good player. They’re all really good players. The little point guard (Hardnett) is really going to help them. He’s different than everybody they have. I think there will be unity from this hard reset.”
In the post, the 6-8 Childs turned in a strong freshman season, averaging 9.3 points and 8.2 rebounds after replacing an injured Kyle Davis in the starting lineup. In the long run, Cleveland said, Childs’ significant playing time a year ago will pay big dividends this season.
“How far along would Yoeli Childs be if Kyle Davis had been healthy last year? We would have loved to have seen Kyle play last year. In some ways, that’s good fortune for Yoeli and for the program because he has the maturity now,” Cleveland said. “He’s made the mistakes and he’s going to be really good. Now you’ve got three returning bigs and time to recruit another big. You’ve got a group, as a sum, that will have to fill in. Not one of those players will be Eric Mika. But together, with schemes and a different identity, a new assistant coach that will bring energy — those things may offset the loss of Eric Mika."
Cleveland added that in life, everyone has setbacks to overcome and he predicts that the Cougars will benefit from a fresh start.
"Besides the fact that all of the sudden expectations are down and everybody will feel like this team won’t be as good and now they’ll overachieve. That’s kind of how it works sometimes," he said. "This is going to be a great summer with a new staff and new players. There will be a great unity in trying to prove that they can do this without having Eric here. You hit rock bottom and you dig and scratch and claw your way out and become better as a result. That’s what you’re going to see with the BYU basketball program.”