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Kragthorpe: Eric Mika may have improved too quickly, for BYU's sake

Published March 23, 2017 4:57 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If the legacy of BYU's "Lone Peak Three" becomes a case of failing to live up to expectations, the irony will be that it happened mainly because Eric Mika became too good, too soon.

The 6-foot-10 Mika is exploring the NBA draft with the option of returning to BYU, as rules allow, just as Utah State's Jalen Moore did last year and Utah's Kyle Kuzma is doing this spring. Mika's case may be different than the others for two reasons: He sounds determined to prove that's he ready for the NBA, and he probably is.

If he leaves BYU, the Cougars will have played only one of the anticipated three seasons with former Lone Peak High School teammates Nick Emery, TJ Haws and Mika in the lineup. A total of 22 wins is not what anyone was picturing from that threesome's collaboration.

The only trouble with Mika's ascent this season, when he averaged 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds as a sophomore, is it makes the team's performance seem more disappointing. If you had told me Mika would be this productive in his first season back from a church mission, I would have upgraded my preseason forecast.

I didn't predict an NCAA Tournament bid for the Cougars, believing it would take a year for the team to come together (similar to Utah's situation). That basically proved true during BYU's 22-12 season that ended with a loss to UT Arlington in the NIT's first round. The premise was that everybody would stick around and the Cougars would figure out some things next season and make an NCAA appearance.

That seems doubtful without Mika — just because he's that good. He looks like a second-round draft choice in June, which would be a sufficient opportunity to launch his NBA career. With new rules further connecting NBA rosters to NBA Development League affiliates, players such as Mika and former BYU teammate Kyle Collinsworth will have more opportunity to improve within a system.

The same may be true of Kuzma, although I see Mika's game as more advanced at this stage. Selfishly, I hope they both end up staying in school for another year. Fans deserve to watch the best possible product on the court. The good part is that whatever decisions they make will have stemmed from good information.

The two best things the NBA has done in my lifetime are establish a rookie wage scale that basically eliminates contract holdouts and give players the chance to work out for teams in May without committing themselves to the draft.

Mika and Kuzma owe it themselves to see what the NBA thinks of them then decide where they go from here. If they leave, they will have left some things undone in their college programs, but that's their choice.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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