Provo • To land their latest basketball recruit, Salt Lake Community College power forward Agustin Ambrosino, the BYU Cougars got a big assist from an unexpected source: the Utah Utes.
Of course, it was unintentional help from the coaching staff of their biggest rival, but the Cougars will take it, knowing that if the Utes had not stashed the 6-foot-8 Ambrosino at SLCC in nearby Taylorsville, they most likely would never have known about the athletic sharpshooter who averaged 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Bruins last season.
"It is ironic," acknowledged SLCC coach Todd Phillips, choosing his words carefully while noting that he has a strong working relationship with both staffs especially Utah's, with former SLCC head coach Norm Parrish assisting U. head coach Larry Krystkowiak that he obviously wants to continue.
Ambrosino called "Auggie" by his teammates is a smiling, easy-going, wide-eyed, 21-year-old devout Catholic who says he picked BYU after also getting offers from Iona and Pepperdine and drawing interest from UNLV and Colorado State because he likes BYU's fast-paced, open offensive style and the reputation of head coach Dave Rose.
"And Jimmer [Fredette] played there, too," he said. "I like him. I like to shoot."
Whether Utah coaches seriously offered Ambrosino is a bit hazy, after persuading Phillips to take him a year ago knowing that he needed to get an associates degree before he was eligible for a Division I program.
Ambrosino says Utah coaches offered him before last season, then backed off when they landed a player with similar size and skills (probably West Jordan phenom Jordan Loveridge).
When word got out that the Utes were no longer interested in him it is considered poor form to recruit a player who has been stashed by another program at a junior college BYU coaches made the offer about three weeks ago.
"BYU respected that Utah was on him and so they stayed out of it [until Utah backed off]," Phillips said.
Ambrosino says after he committed to BYU on April 9 (two days before the signing period began), Utah contacted him again, but by then his mind was made up.
"I think BYU right now is better organized," he said. "They have had same players for a couple of years, they know the system. Like, they have had good seasons for 10 years. Utah has lost something like 10 players? I don't know about that. So BYU is ... the best situation for me."
Ambrosino grew up in the town of Villa Maria in the state of Cordoba, Argentina, then spent three years in Spain after he turned 16. He played for a prep school in Jackson, Miss., then went on to Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla., but did not like the experience there, saying the people were not all that friendly and the coaching was inconsistent. He averaged just 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds a game at Gulf Coast, and Phillips says he wasn't sure he really wanted him at SLCC at first.
But Ambrosino quickly earned the coach's respect; Phillips says his numbers were not flashy because the Bruins' two best players Ambrosino and Marquis Horne both played the four spot and split playing time there. Horne signed with Cal State Fullerton.
"His strength is that he's a scorer, and he shoots [3-pointers] really well," Phillips said, noting Ambrosino's 43.9 percent accuracy from long range and saying he's similar to BYU's Noah Hartsock. Phillips said Ambrosino doesn't have Harsock's sense of being in the right spots at the right time, but is more athletic, a better jumper, and shoots more 3-pointers than the Cougars' best player last year.
"He fits BYU's style perfectly," said SLCC assistant Andrew May, a former BYU student manager. "He can drive it real well for a four-man. He will be another one of coach Rose's highly skilled string of excellent [power forwards]."
Ambrosino said he attended two BYU games at the Marriott Center last season the loss to St. Mary's and the win over Gonzaga and was struck by the same friendliness in Provo that he has experienced at SLCC and didn't experience in Florida. He said he's been warned of the rigors of BYU's Honor Code and believes he can abide by it, but right now his priority is completing a couple more classes so he's academically eligible.
"I have to do it," he said. "I am going to do it. If not, my dad [Nestor] is going to make me walk home to Argentina."
Agustin Ambrosino file
• Grew up in Villa Maria, Cordoba, Argentina, but lived in Spain for three years.
• Junior college transfer played his freshman season at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla., and his sophomore season at Salt Lake Community College.
• 6-foot-8 power forward averaged 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game at SLCC last season.