Provo • These are the best of times for BYU men's basketball. But are they as good as it gets?
The program has won an NCAA Tournament game for three straight years, won 25 or more games for six straight years and 20-plus games for seven straight years. The Cougars have made six straight NCAA appearances, a school record.
Shortly after an 88-68 loss to Marquette on March 15 in the tournament's second round, however, the Cougars began looking ahead to next season, and beyond. Can seven-year coach Dave Rose's program take another step in 2012-13 toward elite status, or is BYU finally due for an off year?
The Cougars recovered well from the losses of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery to graduation and Kyle Collinsworth to a church mission, going 26-9 in 2011-12 and overcoming several injuries to key players and the switch to a new league. But avoiding a drop-off next season when they will be without two of the three winningest players in school history (Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo) will take another noteworthy coaching effort from Rose and his young staff.
Freshman Damarcus Harrison, a lightly used backup, is expected to leave for a church mission this summer and will also be unavailable.
"I think it was a great year considering the opportunities we had," said part-time starter Brock Zylstra, a former walk-on. "I think we moved the program forward, and I see only bright things ahead. We should be successful for a long time to come."
The scholarships vacated by Hartsock and Abouo will be taken by wing Tyler Haws (who returns from a church mission next month) and junior college transfer Raul Delgado, a Springville High product who starred for Western Nebraska Community College this past season. Haws averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game his freshman season (2009-10) and was an All-Mountain West Conference third-team selection. Delgado averaged 18.0 points, 3.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game at WNCC last season while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from 3-point range.
Delgado is expected to improve BYU's most glaring offensive weakness this past season: consistent outside shooting. The Cougars also hope former junior college gunner Stephen Rogers is healthy, after he played just 245 minutes due to a nagging knee injury.
The Cougars shot just 34.3 percent from 3-point range, recording their worst outside shooting season in Rose's tenure.
"We had a lot of open looks [against Marquette] that I think our guys will spend a lot of time this summer working on so that we can become a better shooting team next year," Rose said.
With Harrison's somewhat surprising announcement that he is mission-bound, Rose now has a decision to make. Does he give the open scholarship to walk-on Craig Cusick, who clearly earned one with his steady, consistent play? Or does he try to sign a late-blooming high school star or another junior college transfer during the late-signing period, which runs from April 11 to May 16?
The Cougars signed two high school players in November Jordan Chatman of Union High in Vancouver, Wash., and Cory Calvert of Chaparral High in Parker, Colo. but both will go on church missions before enrolling. Cooper Ainge, 6-foot point guard and the son of BYU legend Danny Ainge, will walk on in 2012-13 and is expected to play a season before going on a church mission.
Down the road, the Cougars will welcome Kyle Collinsworth back from his mission in Russia prior to the 2013-14 season. Isaac Neilson, the 6-10 center from Mission Viejo, Calif., left for Birmingham, Ala., two months ago and won't be available until the 2014-15 season.
Four players who just finished their junior seasons in high school Arizona's Braiden Shaw, Lone Peak's Nick Emery and Eric Mika and Jakob Hartsock of Bartlesville, Okla. (Noah's brother) have said they will join the program down the road as well. Lone Peak's T.J. Haws, who just finished his sophomore year, has also committed to BYU.
The nation's top high school junior, 6-foot-8 Jabari Parker of Simeon High School in Chicago, recently led his team to an Illinois 4A state championship and is on BYU's recruiting radar because he is a member of the LDS Church. However, Duke, Kentucky, Illinois and other college basketball powers are also heavily recruiting Parker, and BYU's chances of landing the program-changer are considered miniscule.
Twitter: @drewjay BYU men's basketball 2012-13 probable roster
Point guards Year Comment
Matt Carlino Sophomore Wildly inconsistent but had flashes of brilliance
Craig Cusick Senior Walk-on became a valuable backup last year
Nick Martineau Senior Played fewest minutes of any non-injured player
Wings/shooting guards Year Comment
Anson Winder Sophomore Started 15 games; became best frontcourt defender
Brock Zylstra Senior One of the most versatile players on BYU roster
Tyler Haws Sophomore Key member of 2009-10 team is back off mission
Raul Delgado Junior Junior college transfer prepped at Springville H.S.
Stephen Rogers Senior Recorded 17 DNPs due to nagging knee injury
Forwards/Centers Year Comment
Brandon Davies Senior All-conference player an MVP candidate in '13
Chris Collinsworth Sophomore Played in just two games all season due to knee injury
Nate Austin Sophomore Should be a starter, have bigger role in 2012-13
Josh Sharp Sophomore Utah transfer took awhile to adjust after mission
Ian Harward Freshman Returned missionary redshirted last season
* List does not include projected walk-ons Jaren Sweeney, Austin Nelson and Cooper Ainge.