PROVO — Wasatch Academy head basketball coach David Evans knows all about international recruiting.
After starring at BYU-Hawaii, Evans went on to play professionally in Norway and England. Later, as an assistant at BYU-Hawaii, he spent considerable time in Asia recruiting players.
Before becoming the coach at Wasatch Academy, a private and independent school located in Mount Pleasant, he coached Lone Peak High. At Wasatch Academy, Evans recruits and sets up an independent schedule that sees his team play all over the country. Last season, Wasatch Academy traveled more than 25,000 miles.
The roster features a significant international flavor. Among the players last season included two from Brazil, including Bernardo Da Silva, who has signed with BYU; a pair of players from West Africa; and one from the Netherlands.
Evans recently returned home from the Czech Republic on a recruiting trip.
“It’s just like being a college recruiter. I was a college recruiter for several years at BYU-Hawaii. I have relationships with people all over the world,” Evans said. “Someone will call me about a kid and then I’ll watch him and find out about their basketball ability but also about their personality and make sure they’d fit into what we’re trying to do. We try to figure out what we need and then we go find the right personality and make sure they’re good kids.”
Mark Pope, who was named BYU’s head coach April 10, has said he intends for the Cougars to have a global presence when it comes to recruiting. A source told the Deseret News that Pope will be traveling to Europe in the countries of Lithuania, Serbia and Spain next month.
“We’re going to have to cast a really, really big net,” Pope said during his introductory press conference. “We’ll cast our net throughout the entire country and around the world. We have the capability here to do that. We have the resources to be able to go do that. That’s something we’re really excited about. It will take an inordinate amount of work and time to do it.”
Evans believes Pope will be successful recruiting overseas.
“I played overseas for several years and that’s why I have relationships there. Coach Pope played over in Europe, too,” Evans said. “He has a lot of good relationships with people in Europe, too. He’ll do a great job recruiting in Europe and all over. He’s a hard worker.”
When coach Dave Rose and assistant Tim LaComb were at BYU, Evans said, they worked hard to recruit international players. It’s all about finding athletes that are the right fit for a place like BYU that requires all students to adhere to a stringent honor code.
High academic standards play a factor for BYU as well when it comes to international recruiting.
A couple of years ago, the Cougars were recruiting a Russian forward that made a recruiting visit to Provo and committed to BYU. However, he reportedly didn’t pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and was unable to qualify for BYU.
Evans said BYU should focus its recruiting efforts primarily on Latter-day Saint prospects.
“When you’re coaching at BYU, you have to go after the best LDS kids in the country. I’m a firm believer in that,” Evans said. “Hopefully, it can get back to the point where all the top LDS kids are going to BYU. But if you can’t get those kids, you have to supplement it with kids that can live the honor code. Coach Rose, Coach LaComb and I would talk about different kids at Wasatch and almost any kid that’s in our program right now could live the honor code. We ask them to live that way while they’re here. We avoid swearing with our staff and our players. We don’t allow them to drink or smoke.
"Those kids are out there. There are a lot of really good kids that will live the honor code and play basketball. It’s about finding the right kids. But you have to work really hard. They’ll do that at BYU and they have done that. Tim’s a really hard worker as well and they did a good job over there.”
While Da Silva is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evans said Da Silva will be able to acclimate smoothly at BYU.
“He’s not LDS but he’s a strong Christian. He lives the honor code,” Evans said. “He’s one of the best kids that I’ve coached. He’s a great kid and a great teammate.”
Da Silva was already attending Wasatch Academy before Evans took the helm of the program last year. However, Evans first learned about Da Silva years earlier through Walter Roese, who runs the NBA Academy in Mexico. Roese served as an assistant coach under Rose and became the first Brazilian full-time assistant coach in Division I college basketball.
During Roese’s time at BYU, the Cougars boasted a handful of Brazilian players on the roster, including Rafael Araujo, who ended up becoming a co-Mountain West Conference player of the year and first-round NBA draft pick.
Of course, BYU has a long tradition of recruiting international players. The first foreign All-American, Kresimir Cosic, hailed from Yugoslavia and is the only BYU player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. According to a book about basketball in Finland, BYU was the first Division I school to have an international player on its roster — Timo Lampen, from Finland in 1961. In the mid-1980s, the Cougars had another player from Finland, Timo Saarelainen, who was named Western Athletic Conference player of the year in 1985.
Can BYU reestablish an international pipeline of basketball talent?
For the Cougars to compete at the highest level, they might need to cast a wide net overseas and sign some foreign players.
Evans said it's evident that international players are making a significant impact on basketball and that’s only going to increase in the future.26 comments on this story
“I love international kids and the international game. One-fifth of NBA players now are international. That’s the trend,” he said. “My coach from BYU-Hawaii is one of the national team coaches in Taiwan. He has really great relationships with people in Asia — Taiwan, China and Korea. Every year he and I would go over there when I worked for him. We could see the trend changing. China in about 5-10 years is going to explode with players. It’s still in a growth process. I think we’ll see a lot more players from China and Asia in the NBA and throughout college.”