BYU basketball coaches received some bad news on Wednesday night when SLCC basketball star Sai Tummala, whom they were heavily recruiting, said he will sign with his hometown school, Arizona State. Tummala had BYU and Arizona State in his final four or five schools, along with Nebraska and Miami of Ohio. "Committed to be an Arizona State Sun Devil! I am extremely blessed to have this opportunity," Tummala noted on his Twitter account Thursday morning.This is a big weekend for BYU sports, with the men's rugby team taking on Cal on Saturday at South Field in Provo for the national championship, and the men's volleyball team playing in the Final Four beginning tonight against Penn State in Los Angeles. If the Cougars win tonight, they will take on the winner of the earlier Loyola-Chicago vs. UC Irvine game for the national championship on Saturday. Here's my recap of the magical 2012-13 season the men's volleyball team has had, with a look ahead to the Final Four. The match will not be televised, but live-streaming is available at NCAA.com. ESPNU will televise Saturday's championship match. Earlier this week, BYU coach Chris McGown, in just his second season, was named the 2013 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Coach of the Year. His father, Carl McGown, won the award in 1999 and 2001 and Tom Peterson won co-coach honors in 2003. Wednesday night, Chris McGown was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) 2013 Division I-II National Coach of the Year. Oddly, to some, the AVCA named Long Beach State's Taylor Crabb the Men's National Player of the Year. That after a player in Crabb's league, BYU's Taylor Sander, was named the MPSF Player of the Year. Doesn't seem right. Sander can obviously get some retribution for the snub by playing well in the Final Four. Crabb's season is over. On Wednesday, McGown and a couple BYU players Sander and senior setter Ryan Boyce appeared at a news conference at Pauley Pavilion. Here are some of their comments about the national championship tournament:BYU Head Coach Chris McGownOpening Statement"We are excited to be here. We are proud of the efforts that the boys have put in over the course of the season. They have had some tremendous moments. They have worked really hard. They have done a nice job as a team to get us to this point. We are thrilled to be part of the competition. We recognize that there are a lot of really, really talented players and coaches that are involved in the final four and we look forward to a weekend of competition."
On what the team needs to do to win on Thursday:
"It's interesting to try and get a sense of a team that you haven't looked at much during the year with Penn State obviously not playing in our conference. We feel like we have a good handle on most of the other programs that we play a lot. We've tried to get a feel for how they are going to play. More than anything I think that we talk about – in all of these moments and all of these matches – that we haven't needed to be somebody we're not. We just want to be who we are and play within ourselves and continue to play good quality volleyball. So we've talked to our guys a lot about coming to play as hard as we can, to stay focused mentally, to do the little things and to just keep playing the game that we've played. We don't need to be special necessarily, we just need to be who we are and we think we can compete by doing that."
On making sure his players aren't overconfident as the No. 1 team:
"I don't think we've ever been overconfident during the course of the season, so it isn't something that I see in our team. Our team has been pretty loose coming into today. We've had a good couple practices back home at BYU. We will see how we feel today. Certainly we will remind them of the Hawai'i match that we played in the quarterfinals of the MPSFs. We were a one see and they were an eight seed. We were supposed to kind of roll them and they gave us everything we could handle down to the last point. So we will talk about that a little bit and say remember what happened there. We can't lose focus. If you are here, it's because you are a wonderful volleyball team and every team is good in this tournament right now.
On the differences between playing at altitude and playing at sea level:
"The thing that I've seen over the course of the season is that when we've come to California, we've played really well. We've served as well as our opponents have served. We kind of acclimate quickly and the guys get into the rhythm of the match fairly fast. One of the things that is going to be critical is the serve, serve-receive game, and we've been good at that when we've come down here. We've actually served really well and guys get a feel for that and they can get on the ball a little bit more. We've talked over the course of the season about the serve and serve-receive and how critical those can be over the course of a match. That's the part of the game that is most affected by a change in altitude. So when we've come down we've been good and I've been impressed by how quickly we acclimate and by how much pressure we can put on teams with our serve and how much pressure we can put on them by receiving serve well and then running our offense."
On how hard it is to win back-to-back titles in men's volleyball:
"There is so much parity in men's volleyball. We talk about it all the time that there are just these little things that can turn a match. I thought in our match against Long Beach State, they played a really clean, high-quality volleyball match. There were a few little points that went our way because we executed a few things at critical moments in the match. I think it's going to come down to that with Irvine. Obviously it's going to be hard, but they are in a wonderful position to go back-to-back. It just remains to see who can execute the fundamentals at the important junctures in the match. If anybody can do it, I think they are a team that is equipped to do it. Obviously we want to keep them from doing that.
On whether they were disappointed not to play UC Irvine at last week's MPSF Championships:
"We don't look at it that way. The team we are really happy not to have to play is UCLA to be honest. They were giving us all we could handle when we played them here. They really played phenomenally well. They played well for two and a half sets against us at BYU and we felt really fortunate to come away with a win there against just a wonderful team who was kind of peaking at the right time. I think if we play that match here in Pauley, UCLA wins it. So not having (UCLA) in the tournament is the team we didn't want to have to see again. So we're not unhappy that we didn't have to play UC Irvine in the conference championship. We think Long Beach was a great team too and they've had a wonderful year."
On being able to have recruiting success in Southern California:
"I think a lot of it is the strong membership in the religious affiliation that goes along with BYU and the Mormon Church. It's certainly a unique environment there at BYU. One of the things that we talk to our guys all the time and to the recruits is that BYU is special in that a lot of the distractions are eliminated and you get to focus on your schooling. You get to focus on being a wonderful volleyball player. You are surrounded by people that are kind of like minded and uphold values that you have and want more than anything in the world to be phenomenal volleyball players and to be good students. There isn't a lot of overhead that goes along with that so I think people who come from strong volleyball backgrounds, especially here in Southern California, get there and they recognize that this program does things for you that others can't."
BYU Junior Opposite Taylor SanderOn whether having Final Four experience makes a difference:
"It's unfamiliar for us but we're up to the challenge. Every team that is here is really good. We are just going to have to play our volleyball and not have to think too far ahead of ourselves. We are going to take Penn State first and just play our volleyball. That should be good enough I feel like."
On the differences between playing at altitude and playing at sea level:
"It's a lot harder for us to play here, but we have a couple days to acclimate. The serves are coming a little bit harder and they drop a little bit more. So yeah, we just have to dial it in during these practice sessions that we get. We have played here a couple of times this season and we've done well. So we feel comfortable here for sure."
On why he chose BYU:
"I was being looked at by a lot of really good schools. I was considering USC, UC Irvine – all those big schools. The thing for me was just developing myself as a better person and helping myself grow up and just preparing myself for the future. The culture that we have there at BYU really helps you do that. The players are really mature. The schooling is great. Everyone really cares about you there, so it's a catch for me. Being away from home is nice and trying to grow up a little bit on my own."
BYU Senior Setter Ryan Boyce:
On whether having Final Four experience makes a difference:
"We just want to keep playing. Volleyball is a great sport and we are having a lot of fun. This has been a great year for us as a team and everyone seems to be on the same page. So we just want to keep playing and keep staying together as a team and go from there."
On whether the change in altitude affects his setting:
"I don't think so. The field house we play in at home is a really small venue. Then you get to here where it's a big venue. We practiced at the Marriott Center, the basketball arena there at BYU, just to get used it and so I think everyone is feeling good and everyone is just excited to get out there and play. We just want to play."
On why he chose BYU:"I wasn't heavily recruited at all out of high school. I knew I wanted to go somewhere that I was going to have opportunities to go to school, serve a mission, and do all those things that I wanted to do in my life. So BYU has just been a great school for me to go to. I met my wife, served a mission and accomplished all of the goals that I've wanted to accomplish so far. That's the reason I went to BYU."