PROVO — New BYU men's basketball coach Mark Pope has hit the ground running since his hiring was formally announced back on April 10, with media and fans taking note of any clues of what his inaugural team might look like. On Tuesday, Pope addressed several topics in a rare offseason interview session with the media, providing more insight into how his team is advancing into form for the coming 2019-2020 season.
Chief among the intrigue surrounds embattled Lone Peak product Nick Emery, who returned to the team last season after sitting out a year due to personal issues. What role will Emery assume moving forward and how does he view the many changes coming about within the program under a new coaching staff?
As always, Pope proved candid in what his interactions with Emery have been since day one.
Pope went back to an instance he's referenced several times in addressing where he stands with Emery, relating the first time he addressed current players on the team, stating on Tuesday, "You didn’t choose to come here and play for me. So we have to figure this out together and for the guys that want to stay, come stay and we’re going to do something extraordinary. For the guys that don’t want to come to play for me at BYU, then let me find you somewhere where you can go."
So where does Emery stand?
Pope noted several players looked at him "pretty sideways" throughout that first address, stating, "I think Nick would tell you he was looking at me really sideways."
Indeed Emery's return season was inconsistent at best and a general disappointment for those who saw him provide significantly as both a freshman and a sophomore. It all leads to some pretty big question marks on both ends regarding his role and what level of production he'll provide during his final season.
So how has Emery responded since the initial contact made by Pope?
“You’d have to ask him," Pope answered. "But I think we’re in a really good spot right now. I think he has a renewed focus. I think the seniors have extraordinary things inside them that are founded on the struggles that you go through over a four-year career."
Pope's team will be heavy on senior leadership, a spot that isn't common on a lot of collegiate teams in this day and age, with Emery joining fellow seniors Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Dalton Nixon and Zac Seljaas, along with Utah Valley transfer Jake Toolson.
The return of Childs has been covered in earnest since he announced his return to the program, but concerning the second-most prominent returning senior, TJ Haws, Pope shared some positive insights.
"This is a special young man who wants to win so badly," Pope said. "He has a huge burden on his shoulders right now because this is his final shot to win, to win big, and win in a way he imagined winning. … So he's really eager and he's really anxious."
Cornering Toolson, Pope certainly heaped praise on the transfer that followed him to UVU and then back to BYU for his final year.32 comments on this story
"First and foremost, I’m grateful I get the chance to coach him for another year," Pope said. "It’s a gift to be able to coach a guy who has grown as much as he has and turned into the person he is. It’s really easy for him now to jump in and take a leadership role and he’s accustomed to that. It’s been his comfort zone for the last couple of years."
As a group Pope anticipates Emery and his fellow seniors to go out strong.
"I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen seniors rise up and do spectacular things in really big moments," Pope said. "That’s my expectation for Nick and I think that’s what he expects from himself, and I just can’t wait to see it.”