Nobody gets hurt — that’s the whole aim of summer. We want to be injury free. The most important thing is to be as game-ready as we can. If they lose time due to injury you might as well not be doing it. —BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb
A week ago New Orleans Pelican and former Duke guard Frank Jackson was dribbling and shooting in BYU’s new practice facility. Nearby, Gavin Baxter was working on spin moves and shooting form. Above the Marriott Center Annex floor, Yoeli Childs conducted a press conference explaining his return to play for BYU.
There was a time BYU basketball coach Dave Rose thought he’d sign the bulk of a talented Utah Prospects AAU team. That team included Lone Peak’s five-star Jackson; four-star wing and soon-to-be-returned missionary Connor Harding; four-star recruit and now All-WCC forward Childs, and Timpview four-star dunk artist Gavin Baxter.
It would have been quite the haul for Rose. All had committed to sign.
Today, he’ll have to settle for three of the four. All these guys will have a reunion in June when Harding, a 6-5 guard from Highland High in Pocatello, returns from LDS mission service. Lunch will be on Jackson, the pro.
When Childs announced he would play for BYU this year, it completed the season roster for Rose. “Everyone but Elijah Bryant returns. The roster is now set,” said Rose at his Huntsman Cancer Charity Golf Classic at Alpine Country Club on Monday.
“We’re excited about Yoeli coming back,” said BYU assistant Tim LaComb.
“He’s was really serious about going out and getting a feel for where he sits. He got a lot of advice and input from a lot of people. I think at the end of the day, his desire to continue to develop things on and off the floor, being more vocal, being a better teammate, being the guy that in crunch everyone can count on. It really kind of anchors a really talented team with some pieces that still need to fit together. It’s all positive.”
Beginning in June when Connor returns, BYU will take advantage of new NCAA rules that allow skill development sessions, four hours a week for eight weeks. Previous rules allowed just two hours a week.
“We choose to do that in the summer,” said LaComb. “ All the guys will be back in June and we will begin. We still have Connor Harding to return from his mission. He and Gavin Baxter are the new guys and obviously, Nick Emery will be back and so we’ll take our whole roster and work with them for the eight week period.
Emery still has an NCAA inquiry file to get finalized, but BYU has readmitted him. “He is back and moving forward,” said LaComb. Rose doesn't anticipate that will be a problem for Emery.
Last Sunday, BYU coaches attended the homecoming of Baxter. “I was standing next to him and his size is impressive,” said LaComb. NBA players Noah Vonleh, Steven Adams and Kevin Durant have 7-foot-4 wingspans and at the upper echelon are Rudy Gobert at 7-foot-8 and Hassan Whiteside at 7-foot-7. Texas freshman Mohamed Bamba’s 7-foot-10 wingspan is the longest in NBA combine history. “That is unbelievable. He can reach from the paint and eat somebody’s popcorn,” said LaComb.
“Gavin’s wingspan isn’t that long but it is very long, about 7-2. He’s a very long, athletic player and what will be new to him is the speed and athleticism of players at this level but he’ll get familiar with it. Having him and Yoeli together will be a lot of fun.”
A key for Baxter and Harding is to safely maneuver through the summer and fall without getting injured coming off two years of church service.
“Nobody gets hurt — that’s the whole aim of summer,” said LaComb. “We want to be injury free. The most important thing is to be as game-ready as we can. If they lose time due to injury you might as well not be doing it.”
With TJ Haws, Emery, McKay Cannon, Jahshire Hardnett and Rylan Bergersen back, BYU’s backcourt will have plenty of fodder when Harding joins that group.
Childs, as well as coaches, as if on cue to the media, like to build up Bergersen, the returning freshman from Boise.
“He really came on late in the year. I have a ton of confidence and faith in him. He’s a guy that battled, was there every day, worked his butt off all year long. He’s a team guy and I think you will see a lot out of him,” said LaComb.
“Connor Harding is a highly regarded recruit. Connor is just a basketball player. He can shoot it and pass it. He has a great feel and instinct for the game and he’s hard-nosed. He was a quarterback and receiver on his football team. He took hits and did it all. He’ll be a great asset to our team.”
He’s also the fifth native of Idaho on the roster. Count Bergersen (Boise), Kolby Lee (Meridian), Harding (Pocatello) and Cannon (Shelley), Braiden Shaw (Eagle), and BYU's roster suddenly has lots of spud power.
“I don’t know what it is but we’ve got a lot of Idaho kids. They are Idaho tough and grew up having to work,” said LaComb.
It helps everyone to have Jackson, one of the top players ever to play in Utah, bring his speed, work ethic, and NBA athleticism back to BYU. Coaches welcome Jackson anytime he can drop by and say the practice court and facilities are open to the former Blue Devil who was once committed to the Cougars.
“That AAU team, with Harding, Childs, Jackson, and Baxter was very good. We watched them go against some of the best players in the country in their age group and they held their own. They were fun to watch. At one point we thought we’d get all of them, but we ended up getting most of them,” LaComb said.
Concluded LaComb, “ One thing we told Frank when recruiting him is that we want him to be a part of our program, even if he doesn’t sign with us. We want to be a friend, a sounding board, a resource forever and Frank has taken us up on that. He’s around.”
Correction: An earlier version omitted Braiden Shaw's name in a list of BYU men's basketball players from Idaho.