PROVO — As the BYU basketball team tips off the 2017-18 season, the Cougars will do so with one player they weren’t planning on getting back until next year.
Sophomore guard Zac Seljaas, who played well as a freshman in 2015-16, returned home a year early from his LDS Church mission in Des Moines, Iowa, last March due to a lingering shoulder injury.
After rehabbing his shoulder and getting back into shape over the past six months, Seljaas, a 3-point sharpshooter, is expected to be a key contributor as the season opens Saturday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv) against Mississippi Valley State at the Marriott Center.
In BYU’s final exhibition game Wednesday against Colorado College, Seljaas knocked down 6 of 9 3-pointers in 18 minutes of action.
“Zac has been on a constant upward plane. He hasn’t had a lot of setbacks,” coach Dave Rose said of the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Bountiful High product. “He’s had a few times in practice where he’s twinged it pretty good. It’s been sore but he’s recovered pretty quickly, which is good.”
Seljaas’ presence is especially crucial in light of Friday's announcement that another talented 3-point shooter, Nick Emery, has withdrawn from school.
Seljaas said the process he’s taken to return to basketball has been a positive experience.
Mississippi Valley State (0-0) at BYU (0-0), info
Saturday, 7 p.m. MDT Marriott Center
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
“It’s been really good. It’s good to be back and start playing again. It was rough at first,” he said. “You still have your mission legs and all of that. But after a few weeks, you kind of get back. You kind of start getting into it and it becomes natural and everything clicks and you feel like you can do everything that you did before.”
Seljaas added that he feels stronger after spending a lot of time with trainer Rob Ramos and strength and conditioning coach Erick Schork.
“They do a lot of things to keep it strong. (Former Cougar) Tyler Haws had that problem a few years ago,” Rose said. “By the end of the season, he had worked so hard and was so consistent in his rehab, the hurt shoulder was probably stronger than the shoulder that wasn’t hurt. Hopefully that’s what happens with Zac.”
As a freshman, Seljaas played in 35 games, starting one, and averaged 7.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. He knocked down 49 percent of his shots from the field (88 of 178) and 50 percent of his 3-point attempts (68 of 136).
Seljaas’ 3-point percentage broke the school’s single-season record and placed him among the top five in the country in that category.
During BYU’s run to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals that season, Seljaas played a big role. In the first three NIT games, he drilled 9 of 12 3-pointers and scored 38 points.
The Cougars’ 3-point shooting wasn’t a strength last season. BYU, which finished 22-12 and lost in the first round of the NIT a year ago, shot only 34 percent from 3-point territory, ranking the Cougars No. 207 in the country.
This season, Seljaas will play both the perimeter and the post.
Rose has high expectations for Seljaas.
When he returned home from his mission last spring, Rose noticed that Seljaas “grew maybe a half an inch. He looked bigger, more established, ready to be a Division I factor. He was a really good player as a freshman. He shot the ball well and came off the bench. He’s got a chance to really not only help this team but individually have a great Division I college career.”