Senior Mark Bigelow is expected to be a leader for the Cougars in his fourth season starting in Provo. He and teammate Rafael Araujo are MWC Player of the Year candidates. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Returning four starters and nine lettermen from last year's 23-9 conference co-championship squad and adding several heralded newcomers, the 2003-04 BYU men's basketball team has the talent to claim another Mountain West Conference title and earn its third NCAA tournament invite in the last four years.
This year's team has the potential to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. NBA prospect Rafael Araujo (12.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and All-MWC forward Mark Bigelow (13.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg) highlight an experienced class of seven seniors that also includes starting point guard Kevin Woodberry. In addition to key players such as honorable mention All-MWC forward Jared Jensen and reserves Ricky Bower and Jake Shoff, several newcomers should play a big role in the Marriott Center this season. Junior swingman Mike Hall, a strong, athletic junior college All-American; redshirt freshman forward Garner Meads, a high school McDonald's All-American; redshirt freshman point guard Austin Ainge; and sharpshooting freshman guard Michael Rose all have the talent to make an impact in their first seasons on the floor.
BYU coach Steve Cleveland, the 2003 MWC Coach of the Year, had the chance to give his team some early practice and game experience this summer when all but Rose, Hall and Derek Dawes (a 6-11 sophomore center who will redshirt in 2003-04 once he returns from a two-year LDS Church mission later this summer) were on the roster for the team's six-game tour of Australia in August.
With starter Kevin Woodberry having a full season under his belt, the Cougars should be stronger at the point in 2003-04. Woodberry (6-foot, 170-pound junior) returns after starting 26 of 32 games in his first season with the Cougars. He led BYU in assists (2.5 apg) and steals (1.4 spg) while adding 6.3 points and 2.2 rebounds. A strong defender, Woodberry suffered through a slow start offensively while transitioning to Division I but improved to become a solid contributor. He had seven double-digit scoring games, including three of the last six. He had his best game at CSU with a season-high 17 points and five steals along with five assists. He recorded season highs of 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Others vying for time include junior Terry Nashif senior combo guard Luiz Lemes and redshirt freshman Austin Ainge. Ainge, the son of former BYU and NBA great Danny Ainge and current Boston Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations, will see his first action after redshirting last season. He prepped at Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz., prior to serving a two-year mission in the Dominican Republic for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An intelligent player and outstanding shooter, Ainge is a strong floor leader who sets up his teammates well thanks to his passing skills and complete understanding of the game. Nashif has been the team's primary reserve in his first two seasons. He played in every game last year, including six starts, averaging 14.7 minutes per game. Nashif is perhaps BYU's best ballhandler. A good playmaker, he led BYU in assists (3.0) and ranked first among MWC players in Assist/TO Ratio during league games last year. He has career highs of 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds. A combo guard, Lemes impressed in Australia with his overall play. Others who could see some minutes at the point include senior combo guard Ricky Bower and freshman Michael Rose. Both excellent shooters, they will likely spend the majority of their minutes at the shooting guard position.
The biggest hole to fill for BYU in 2003-04 is that left by shooting guard Travis Hansen, who was selected 37th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in this summer's NBA Draft. Hansen was BYU's leading scorer the past two seasons and was the MWC's defensive player of the year last season along with fellow NBA draft pick Marcus Banks of UNLV. Coach Cleveland may not have one person that possesses all of Hansen's skills but he has several talented players who will vie for time this year. Junior college All-American Mike Hall led Dixie State College to a No. 3 national finish last year. Like Hansen, he is athletic and can get to the basket and is a strong and aggressive defender and rebounder. Seniors Ricky Bower and Luiz Lemes both have size and are excellent outside shooters. Ricky Bower made five starts last year but was slowed by a back and hip injury that really limited his play toward the end of the season. He had five double-figure scoring games, including a season-high 14 points vs. New Mexico in Provo. He made 4 treys vs. UNM, equaling his season high that he achieved in only 10 minutes vs. Idaho State while scoring 13 points. Last year Luiz Lemes played mostly limited minutes but played a bigger role later in the year. He scored a career-high 9 points in BYU's MWC Tournament game vs. CSU, logging 25 minutes while playing solid defense and going 3-4 from the floor. He played the point vs. Pepperdine and logged 21 minutes, starting the second half after hitting two threes during a 16-7 run to end the half. Freshman Michael Rose may redshirt this season but he also may be the team's best shooter with range well behind the three-point arc. Junior Marc Roberts could factor in as a solid defender with good athleticism.
Mark Bigelow returns for his final season as a four-year starter with Coach Steve Cleveland expecting him to fill the leadership void vacated by Travis Hansen. Bigelow earned third-team All-MWC honors in 2002-03 after being honorable mention All-MWC in 2001-02 as a sophomore. Prior to serving a two-year mission, he was the WAC Pacific Division Freshman of the Year and All-WAC Second Team in 1998-99 as BYU's leading scorer (15.0) and rebounder (6.3). Cleveland feels Mark should have no trouble stepping up as he did his freshman season when he was the team's clear leader. Last year he reached double digits in 24 games and was the second-leading scorer (13.9) and was third in rebounds (3.6), assists (2.3), steals (1.0) and blocks (0.4). He scored a season-high 23 points, going 3-4 on threes, to lead BYU at Wyoming. He led BYU in scoring in 6 games. He averaged 15.5 ppg in MWC games. He made a team-leading 63 threes. With 172 career treys he is BYU's career leader. He tied a career-high 5 treys and became BYU's career three-point leader at SDSU, scoring 21 points on 8-16 shooting. He was MWC's top FT shooter in league play. With his strength and athleticism, JC All-American transfer Mike Hall could also slide over to the small forward slot.
Jared Jensen started 25 games last year and earned All-MWC honorable mention. He earned MWC Co-Freshman of the Year honors in 2001-02 when he finished first in the Mountain West Conference with a team-leading 59.1 field goal percentage. He is a talented offensive player in the low-post. Jensen was fourth on the team in scoring (7.5) and fourth in rebounding (3.3) last year and had 11 double figure scoring games despite Rafael Araujo being the primary option in the post. He has the potential to be a great inside scorer if his number is called. He had a season-high 19 points at UNM, making a career-best 7 field goals on 10 attempts. He had 18 points in 18 minutes on 6-for-6 shooting vs. Rice. He shot 50 percent or better in all but 8 games. Redshirt freshman Garner Meads returned from a mission in February and completed the final half of his redshirt season. He could prove a significant factor at the power forward slot. At 6-foot-8, he is hard-working and physical inside. Another physical presence is senior Jake Shoff, who was limited by a back injury last season. Shoff played double-digit minutes in 13 games last year. He got a start at Weber State and vs. UConn in the NCAA Tournament. If healthy, he has proven he can perform. He played a season-high 27 minutes at Wyoming and was key contributor to the win with 10 rebounds and 2-2 shooting. He had 10 boards vs. CSU. With Rafael Araujo in foul trouble against USD, Shoff scored 4 points with 1 rebound and 1 steal in 9 minutes while playing a key defensive role on USD center and leading scorer Jason Keep, helping hold him nearly 11 points below his average.He set a personal-best 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting and 5 boards in just 12 minutes vs. Pepperdine. Sophomore Josh Burgess, a 6-foot-8 forward who played at Irvine Valley last year, joined the team in the fall.
The center position is in the capable hands of senior Rafael Araujo. He was third-team All-MWC as BYU's top rebounder (8.9) and third-leading scorer (12.0) last year. He was second in the MWC in rebounds. A hard-working player always striving to improve, he is a solid NBA prospect who has the potential to be the league's best player in his second season at the Division I level. He led BYU in scoring in nine games and reached double-digit points in 18 games last year. He had double-digit rebounds in 13 games and was second on the team in steals (1.4) and ranked third among all MWC players in thefts in league games. He had a team-leading eight double-doubles. With three-year reserve Dan Howard deciding to not play his final season, Shoff could see some more time at the five position. Derek Dawes returned from a mission in August. The 6-foot-11 center will likely redshirt in 2003-04.