Freshman All-American Trent Plaisted is one of four returning starters for BYU in 2006-07. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
With four starters and nine lettermen returning, including Freshman All-American Trent Plaisted, the Cougars should be among the favorites to win a tough and competitive Mountain West Conference in 2006-07.
"We have a good group of players," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "They want to be successful. It should be an exciting season. The Mountain West will be very competitive this year. Seven of the nine teams return at least three starters and five return four or more."
One thing about the upcoming season seems certain -- the Cougars will not be the league's preseason pick to finish last as they were last year in Rose's first season at the helm. No, not after watching Rose coach his team to a second-place MWC finish -- one game behind league champion San Diego State -- while turning a 9-21 season into a 20-9 product that proved to be the second-best improvement among all Division I programs. No, not with a solid core of players returning, including six seniors and Plaisted, the MWC Freshman of the Year. No, the one certainty the Cougars can expect going into the 2006-07 season is that no one is likely to underestimate their chances to claim the MWC crown.
Headlining the Cougar squad is Plaisted, an athletic, 6-foot-11 post who led BYU in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (6.9) last year while surpassing Andew Bogut's MWC record for most points scored by a freshman center. An All-MWC Second Team pick as the league's top freshman, Plaisted was one of only three freshmen in the nation to receive U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District recognition, being named to the District VIII Team. He was named to the Scout.com Freshman All-America Second Team and was selected national freshman of the week three times.
Other starters returning for Rose include All-MWC Third Team forward Keena Young (Sr. -- 10.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg), All-MWC honorable mention point guard Rashaun Broadus (Sr. -- 9.0 ppg, 3.7 apg) and 6-foot-6 wing Lee Cummard (So. -- 4.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg). Additional letterwinners on the roster are 6-foot-6 wing Jimmy Balderson (Sr. -- 10.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg), 6-foot-9 forward Fernando Malaman (Sr. -- 7.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg), 6-foot-2 combo guard Austin Ainge (Sr. -- 3.6 ppg, 2.6 apg), 6-foot-3 shooter Mike Rose (Sr. -- 3.1 ppg) and 6-foot-3 guard Sam Burgess (Jr. -- 2.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg in 2004-05). Burgess redshirted last year along with transfer Vuk Ivanovic (Jr., 6-10, C/F), who is expected to play a strong role inside for the Cougars this season.
With the addition of five newcomers -- freshmen Jordan Cameron (6-5, G/F), Jonathan Tavernari (6-6, G/F) and Brock Zylstra (6-6, G/F), sophomore Gavin MacGregor (6-9, F/C) and junior transfer Ben Murdock (6-2, G) -- Rose hopes to recapture the winning chemistry that helped last year's team succeed. Typified by former starters like Ainge and Balderson accepting and excelling in roles off the bench, BYU achieved exceptional team chemistry a year ago while boasting a balanced attack that featured 11 players who achieved a double-figure scoring game and five who averaged between nine and 14 points on the year.
Five of BYU's top seven scorers and rebounders last season were first-year players and a walk-on. That walk-on, lone senior Brock Reichner, proved to be a consistent leader on the court all season while earning All-MWC honorable mention. The 6-foot-4 guard's leadership and clutch shooting were key roles that others must play for the Cougars this season. Reichner shot 48.2 percent behind the arc while making a BYU-best 53 triples. Other losses from last year's roster include freshman guard Jackson Emery (2.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg), who made six starts in 28 games and was a strong perimeter defender; junior center Derek Dawes (3.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg), who appeared in 19 outings off the bench while missing some action because of injury; and Jermaine Odjegba (0.4 ppg, 0.4 rpg), who played sparingly in five games as a walk-on. While Reichner graduated and signed a contract to play professionally in Greece, Emery left to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico, Dawes had an ongoing injury shorten his playing career and Odjegba transferred to BYU-Hawai'i.
Fun to watch, last year the Cougars led the MWC in scoring and assists while Rose earned MWC Coach of the Year and USBWA District VIII Coach of the Year honors. Rose became the first BYU coach to be named District Coach of the Year since Roger Reid earned the same honor in 1992.
This season, the Cougars look to build on the momentum they gained under Rose in his first season. BYU enters the year having won its final 14 home games to build the nation's eighth-longest active homecourt victory streak.
The Cougars will play 30 regular-season games in 2006-07 prior to the MWC Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas March 6-10. BYU's nonleague games include dates with 2006 NCAA Tournament runner-up UCLA of the Pac-10 Conference, 2005 Final Four participant Michigan State of the Big Ten Conference and 2006 NCAA qualifier Seton Hall of the Big East Conference. In all, the Cougars' nonleague slate includes 14 games against teams from 10 different conferences prior to beginning MWC play.
"We feel comfortable as a coaching staff in that we have very experienced returning players," Rose said. "Our seniors want to go out with a great year and the younger guys are just as competitive. We can be a good team if we get strong leadership and have good chemistry."
A team outlook by position follows:
Rashaun Broadus started 26 games in his junior campaign after transferring from Western Nebraska. The 6-foot point guard received All-MWC honorable mention after ranking second among MWC players in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.39) and fourth in assists (3.7) while scoring 9.0 points per game, including a season-high 21 points at Utah State. He returns for his final season with fellow senior Austin Ainge, who was a difference-maker off the bench last year after starting the year before. Ainge often ignited BYU runs with his aggressive transition passing in Rose's up-tempo, attacking offense. A co-captain along with Reichner, the 6-foot-2 Ainge dished out 2.6 assists per game to rank 11th among MWC players and had his biggest scoring night of the year in BYU's win over MWC-champion San Diego State, hitting all six shots, including a 4-for-4 performance from behind the three-point arc, to total a season-high 16 points. As Ainge could also play some shooting guard, Dixie State College (St. George, Utah) transfer Ben Murdock gives Rose another option at the point in 2006-07. The 6-foot-2 playmaker earned a spot on the 2006 NJCAA Region 18 All-Tournament Team while helping Dixie advance to the championship game with a 21-12 record. He posted game highs of 28 points and 10 assists while garnering second-team Region 18 and All-Scenic West Athletic Conference honors for his regular-season play. The former Bountiful (Utah) High School product played his freshman season at Snow College in 2004-05, averaging 8.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and a team-leading 4.3 assists on a 25-7 squad.
With the losses of starting shooting guard Brock Reichner and key perimeter defender Jackson Emery, there are some important roles to be filled on the wing in 2006-07. Eight players, including returning starter Lee Cummard and seniors Jimmy Balderson, Mike Rose and Ainge, give the coaching staff some solid options in replacing the production of Reichner and Emery. The 6-foot-6 Balderson, who led the Canadian National Development Team in scoring at the World University Games in 2005, provided important production for BYU off the bench last year in addition to his 10 starts. He reached double-digit points on 17 occasions, including 11 of the last 13 games, and topped 20 points three times while averaging 10.2 points on the year. The 6-foot-6 Cummard started 14 games on the wing and shot 45.5 percent from the floor, averaging 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds. Including freshmen newcomers Jordan Cameron, Jonathan Tavernari and Brock Zylstra, Rose has five players 6-foot-5 or taller who could be paired at the 2 and 3 positions. A native of Sao Bernardo, Brazil, the 6-foot-6 Tavernari was the top scorer (22.1) in Nevada, leading Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) High School to the Sunset Southwest Division (11-1 record) and Sunset Las Vegas Zone titles while advancing to the semifinals of the Nevada State Tournament with a 27-5 overall record. A talented scorer, he topped 30 points five times, including a 32-point performance in the Zone Championship to advance the Gaels to the state semifinals. His game high for the season was 42 points. Cameron is an athletic player out of Newbury Park (Calif.) High School, who is known for his toughness and aggressive style of play. Despite being consistently double-teamed, he averaged a team-leading 18.6 points and 6.6 rebounds as a junior and 21.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a senior. With 4.6 40-yard-dash speed and a 39-inch vertical leap, Cameron earned notice with his athletic play and could be a valuable addition in his first season. Zylstra averaged 22 points, 12 rebounds and three steals at Bonita (La Verne, Calif.) High School as the Miramonte League MVP and an All-CIF first-team player. In addition to the point, Ainge could see time on the wing with his shooting and scoring ability. The 6-foot-2 combo guard has proven he can score when called upon, boasting a career-high 25 points at Colorado State as a sophomore when he averaged 9.5 points per game and earned All-MWC honorable mention. Rose saw more limited action as a junior compared to his sophomore season but still appeared in 22 games and made 18 treys, scoring 3.1 points in nine minutes of action. BYU's record holder for treys in a game with eight, Rose is a long-range shooting threat anytime he is on the floor. He scored a season-high 12 points on two occasions last season. Another factor on the wing could be Sam Burgess, who sat out last year as a redshirt. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard is a well-conditioned athlete with a nice shooting touch. He averaged 2.1 points in mostly limited action as a sophomore but the junior could play a much larger role this year with his strong defensive abilities and solid overall offensive skills.
With Trent Plaisted, Keena Young and Fernando Malaman returning and the additions of 2006 redshirt Vuk Ivanovic and newcomer Gavin MacGregor, the Cougars have five players in the post who all bring a different element to the court for the Cougars. Plaisted is the cornerstone of the lineup with his unique combination of athleticism and size. At 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds with 4.6 40-yard dash speed and a 41-inch running vertical jump, the San Antonio native is an All-America and MWC Player of the Year candidate. As he continues to improve his game, the sophomore-to-be has the potential to be among the best big men to ever play for the Cougars. Last year he set the conference's freshman scoring record by a center, breaking the mark of former Utah center Andrew Bogut, who became the 2005 National Player of the Year as a sophomore. Even though he started last season with smaller-than-expected production on the boards, he soon found his place around the glass as he continually upped his rebounding numbers to a team-best 6.9 per game. On the way, Plaisted had the top rebounding game ever by a BYU freshman and also set the MWC freshman record for rebounds in a league game when he grabbed 18 boards at TCU. Plaisted led BYU with six double-double outings while recording a team-leading 25 double-figure scoring games during the season as the team's leading scorer (13.6). Young was second to Plaisted on the glass with 5.8 rebounds per game after leading BYU on the boards the year before. Despite his somewhat undersized 6-foot-6 frame in the post, Young provided a tough presence and consistent scoring threat for Rose last year, averaging 10.3 points as the team's third-leading scorer, including a 14.5 average over the final seven games. The senior-to-be was an efficient point producer, ranking second on the team in accuracy from the floor (.523) and from the free-throw line (.777). With the game on the line, he was a clutch player when getting the ball in the post, either scoring or going to the line. He made 80 percent of his free throws in the final two minutes of play. Young earned All-MWC Third Team accolades, joining Plaisted (Second Team) as an All-MWC player last year. The 6-foot-9 Malaman gives Rose a post player who can step out on the perimeter and cause problems and also play tough inside when needed. He was a significant factor last year in his first season in Provo, starting 15 games and shooting a team-leading .525 from the floor, including the team's second-best accuracy on threes (18-for-42, .429), while averaging 7.0 points and 3.7 rebounds. He kept BYU in some games last year hitting big shots and playing tough defense while logging several long stretches with Plaisted off the court in foul trouble. With his length and timing, he led BYU with 29 blocked shots. As a senior, he should again play a vital role for the Cougars. Ivanovic is a skilled big man who, at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, has the size inside to be a difference-maker on both ends of the court. The Pancevo, Serbia, native is a good back-to-the-basket player and is effective facing up with a good shooting touch. The junior already has an understanding of BYU's defensive system after practicing with the team last year and has the size to help the Cougars improve their play on the defensive end of the court. His play inside could afford Rose the luxury of playing Plaisted at the power forward position. The 6-foot-9 MacGregor is a good shot blocker and solid presence inside who joins the team as a sophomore after serving a two-year Church mission in Belgium and the Netherlands. He averaged a double-double and earned first-team All-CIF honors at Burroughs (Ridgecrest, Calif.) High School in 2002 while recording career highs of 25 points, 26 rebounds and nine blocked shots.