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Provo • Reality has set in over the past three weeks for the BYU men's basketball program.
Eric Mika is not walking through the Marriott Center doors next season, having given up his final two years of college eligibility to pursue professional basketball.
Mika's decision to leave looking more questionable as he gets limited playing time on a Miami Heat summer league team after the 6-foot-10 forward went undrafted in June left BYU's prospects to catch up with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference looking virtually impossible.
"You lose a kid like that, and the truth of the matter is you can't get one single player that is going to replace him with the timing of it all. There's just no way," BYU assistant coach Quincy Lewis said. "But we have kids coming off missions with experience and guys coming back from last year with experience. Eric is a heckuva player, but you hope your aggregate of kids can help make up for that type of a loss."
Lewis, who also coached Mika at Lone Peak High, doesn't question or criticize the 22-year-old Mika's choice to turn pro, as foolish as it now appears to outsiders. Having exchanged text messages with the new pro the past few weeks, Lewis believes Mika is showing Miami more of what he can do in practices rather than in games.
"I think that's maybe what is unseen is what he does there in practice," Lewis said.
As for the Cougars left behind, they assembled in Provo on June 26 and began the summer term and eight weeks of NCAA-allowed training and practices that can be supervised by coaches two hours each week.
The group that includes one freshman, seven sophomores, six juniors and no seniors is at 14 players now, with the recent additions of guards Kajon Brown, a scholarship-awarded transfer from Lee (Texas) College, and McKay Cannon, a walk-on transfer from Weber State. Cannon has to sit out in 2017-18.
Other new faces include Chipola (Fla.) College transfer guard Jahshire Hardnett, who signed in May, and Boise, Idaho, guard Rylan Bergersen, who signed in April. Forwards Ryan Andrus, Luke Worthington and Dalton Nixon are back from two-year missions, and guard Zac Seljaas is back after his mission was shortened to less than a year by a shoulder injury.
Lewis said Seljaas is the furthest along of the returned missionaries because he has been back the longest and he only missed one season. All four have gone through the six- to eight-week period of no live contact that BYU trainers prescribe from past experience. They all now are playing in pickup games.
Junior guard Elijah Bryant, who tweaked his knee in the WCC tournament loss to Saint Mary's, "is still in the process of rehabbing," Lewis said, without giving particulars.
"We feel pretty good about having him ready to go in the fall," the coach added.
Lewis said the three other returning stalwarts from last season guards TJ Haws and Nick Emery and forward Yoeli Childs have been working extremely hard since the season ended, and the 6-8 Childs is developing a mid-range game in hopes of picking up some of the scoring slack vacated by Mika.
Also, sophomore forward Payton Dastrup, another heir apparent to Mika's minutes, has improved his conditioning and strength to match his basketball talent.
"From a skill standpoint, Payton is right there," Lewis said. "He really has some nice skills to work with, but his thing is getting himself to that pre-mission form."
Then there are the "new" guys freshman Bergersen, sophomore Hardnett and junior Brown (who might be reclassified as a sophomore if his season at Tulsa is ruled a redshirt year).
"You look at the two kids we added late Kajon and Jahshire and you can see what they can possibly add to us as far as their quickness and their athleticism," Lewis said. "They can do some different things that maybe we didn't have last year."
Bottom line, Lewis said, is this has become a team out to prove it can succeed without its best player from last year, Mika.
"With Eric leaving, it hasn't been the easiest" transition, Lewis said. "But I really feel right now that this group of guys has a real positive vibe to them and are really hungry to prove they can do it."
With the live recruiting period beginning Wednesday, BYU coach Dave Rose and assistant Tim LaComb already are out recruiting Rose in Las Vegas and LaComb in Atlanta. Lewis and new assistant Heath Schroyer will join them on the recruiting trail this weekend, although with no seniors on the roster and no players expected to leave on missions after the season, right now there are no apparent scholarships becoming available.
Then again, a player could unexpectedly leave perhaps even for professional basketball.
Freshmen • Rylan Bergersen
Sophomores • Ryan Andrus, Yoeli Childs, Payton Dastrup, Jahshire Hardnett, TJ Haws, Dalton Nixon, Zac Seljaas
Juniors • Kajon Brown, Elijah Bryant, McKay Cannon, Nick Emery, Braiden Shaw, Luke Worthington
Seniors • None
Notes • Cannon is ineligible in 2017-18 and Brown could be reclassified a sophomore, pending an NCAA decision