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BYU basketball: NBA Combine invite is welcome news for Mika

Published May 1, 2017 11:05 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

For the first time since Brandon Davies impressed NBA scouts with his play at the Portsmouth Invitational and got himself invited to the NBA Combine, another Cougar has earned a ticket to the meat market in Chicago next week (May 9-14).

Rising junior Eric Mika, who has declared for the June's NBA Draft but has not hired an agent — which leaves the door open for Mika to return to BYU — got word on Saturday that he is among the 63 players on the list.

It is obviously good news for Mika, who has not shown up on a lot of mock drafts. It's probably bad news for BYU fans who want the 6-foot-10 center to return to the school for his junior season of eligibility.

Because Mika's name wasn't on some of the first lists circulated Friday night, there is speculation that he was a late addition when some of the more well-known and higher-regarded prospects turned down invitations.

Whatever the case, it is a great opportunity for Mika to move up some draft boards and perhaps pique the interest of NBA teams who otherwise were not aware of his abilities.

Of course, Mika had a sensational sophomore season after returning from a church mission to Italy around this time last year. Mika played for BYU as a freshman, then left on his mission. But because the LDS Church changed the minimum age that missionaries can serve from 19 to 18 a few years ago, Mika could be one of the last RMs to take that route.

Most now are leaving on missions as soon as they graduate from high school, and not enrolling at BYU (or other schools) until they return.

BYU coach Dave Rose was asked how that age change has affected his program last week in his roundtable discussion with reporters, and he had an interesting, thoughtful reply. Here it is:

"I am actually a little bit still out on that. I felt like definitely 100 percent it would be a great thing for our program in the fact that we would get them out, and get them back, and then have them four years in a row. Now the four years in a row thing doesn't seem to be a sure thing. It doesn't seem to be what guys are all looking for.

The one thing that is difficult: You take a kid as young as they are, and you put them on a mission right after a really successful high school season, and then you bring them back, and the shape that they are in, into a program where you got some really good players, trying to fight through that, is causing some angst. There are some anxious moments for these kids. Will they ever get back, and will they get themselves where they want to be?"

Rose was likely alluding to the case of BYU big man Payton Dastrup, who put on some pounds in Panama and struggled last season to regain the form he showed in high school when he was an ESPN Top-100 recruit.

"And then there is a lot of change," Rose continued. "I think a lot of that the church is [also] experiencing, but in my personal experience here, quite a few guys said they were going to go, and then they didn't go. Quite a few guys have said they weren't going to go, and then they did go. A couple of guys have gone and then came back [early]. It seems like it is not as consistent as it was when we brought them in for a year, and then sent them out and then brought them back two years later.

It is really difficult to manage when things change.

It is easy to manage if they tell you they are going to do something, and that's how it plays out. But when it changes, you still want to work with them, but that puts you in some really awkward roster positions, especially with just 13 scholarships.

The women are kinda experiencing that a little bit, but they have 15 scholarships. And so it is a little bit easier to manage that."

Perhaps lost in the Mika talk from last week is the fact that BYU will lose its backup center, two-sport star Corbin Kaufusi.

"Corbin is concentrating on football," Rose said. "That's his [priority]. And you know, and he really intends to have a great senior year of football, or junior year, whatever it is. But after the season is over, I think that when we talked he really wants to prepare for professional football. And I think with Corb, and the conversation we had, I think the transition [back to basketball] was a lot harder than he thought it was going to be. His body was really different, and it took him awhile for his body to change.

But obviously, he is going to leave here with a real special place in the hearts of coaches, teammates, fans. Not too many guys are 3-0 in the Kennel [at Gonzaga]."

So is Kaufusi finished with basketball?

"I wouldn't say he is done with hoops, because we don't really know how [football will go]," Rose said. "His intention now is to focus on the [NFL] Combine when the season is over. But who knows what happens? We left with big hugs and smiles and hopefully it all works for him exactly how he wants it to. But if things change, I think he's got 70-some odd games under his belt, and that's a good thing to have, if you need it. But if it is not going to work, then it won't work out."




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