Senior Lee Cummard will look to lead the Cougars to their third straight MWC title this season. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
Coming off back-to-back outright Mountain West Conference titles, the BYU men’s basketball team will strive for a third-consecutive crown in 2008-09. Led by reigning MWC Player of the Year Lee Cummard, the Cougars boast a squad that includes 10 members of last year’s 27-8 team and four talented additions.
The Cougars compiled the second-most wins in program history last season, including their first win over a top-6 team since 1965 with a victory over Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals. Gone this year is All-MWC center Trent Plaisted, who was selected No. 46 in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, and the backcourt tandem of Sam Burgess and Ben Murdock, who as seniors delivered steady play all season long. Despite the losses, the Cougars have a core group of players that should help BYU Head Coach Dave Rose build on his impressive three-year Division I resume. With a 72-26 record, Rose ranks in the top 10 all-time for best three-year record by a first-time Division I head coach.
The two-time MWC Coach of the Year, Rose returns two starters and seven lettermen from last year’s outright league leaders (14-2 MWC record) as well as four returning redshirts, two new recruits and returned missionary Jackson Emery, who made six starts as a freshman in Rose’s first season at the helm in 2005-06. Headlining BYU’s top returners in 2008-09 is All-America candidate Lee Cummard, the reigning MWC Player of the Year, and junior sharpshooter Jonathan Tavernari, who was the lone non-professional to earn a spot on the 2008 Brazilian Senior National Team that played in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Athens this summer.
A 6-foot-7 guard from Mesa, Ariz., Cummard was the MWC Co-Player of the Year with New Mexico’s J.R. Giddens (selected No. 30 in 2008 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics) and received Associated Press All-America honorable mention this past season. The do-everything swingman led the Cougars in scoring (15.8), field-goal percentage (.569), three-point percentage (.472) and blocked shots (1.0) while ranking second in rebounds (6.3), assists (3.5), steals (0.9) and free-throw percentage (.857) last year. Known as a fierce competitor and all-around contributor, the three-year starter also led the team as a sophomore in shooting, steals and minutes while ranking second in assists and blocks and third in scoring and rebounds.
Tavernari followed his MWC Freshman of the Year season in 2006-07 with a record-setting sophomore campaign in 2007-08. The 6-foot-6 forward earned All-MWC Third Team honors and set the BYU single-season and sophomore MWC three-point record with 88 treys while helping the Cougars win their second-straight outright MWC title. He was third on the team in scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounding (5.3 rpg) while averaging 1.5 assists and a team-best 1.4 steals per game. As evidenced by his 29-point effort in BYU’s win over Louisville, Tavernari is capable of scoring in bunches and is a tough competitor and solid rebounder who will play a huge role for the Cougars in his junior season.
Other key returners include sophomore combo guard Jimmer Fredette and junior center Chris Miles. The 6-foot-2 Fredette played in all 35 games for the Cougars as a true freshman and averaged 18.5 minutes, 7.0 points, 1.7 assists and 1.1 rebounds per game. The team’s fifth-leading scorer, he achieved season highs of 19 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds while showing signs of star potential. Miles, who backed up Plaisted in the post after returning from two years of missionary service, showed he can be a force inside with his strong physical presence and ability to run the floor. An excellent shot-blocker at 6-foot-11, he now has a chance in Plaisted’s absence to show why he was ranked as high as the No. 2 post player in the West coming out of Timpview High School. He averaged 8.6 minutes, 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game last year after six starts his freshman season in 2004-05.
Other players with experience include sophomore combo guard Michael Loyd, Jr. (2.0 ppg, 1.2 apg), senior wing Archie Rose (0.9 ppg, 0.8 rpg), senior forward/center Gavin MacGregor (sat out last year with an injury) and Emery (2.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg as freshman in 2005-06). Redshirts who will make their first game appearances this year include junior point guard Lamont Morgan, Jr., freshman forward/center James Anderson and freshman combo guard Matt Pinegar.
Freshman newcomers Noah Hartsock (6-8, F), Charles Abouo (6-4, G/F) and Michael Boswell (6-9, F) round out the squad and have the ability to make an impact in their first seasons in Provo. The following paragraphs provide position breakdowns of the 2008-09 Cougars.
The Cougars will be without the services of steady senior point guard Ben Murdock, who started all 35 games last year after one season as a backup to Austin Ainge. A trio of players is expected to compete to fill his void in the starting lineup and should combine to provide Coach Rose with 40 minutes of quality play at the point. Junior Lamont Morgan, Jr. sat out as a redshirt last year after starting every game at the point and averaging 4.4 assists per game to help Saddleback Community College advance to the state semifinals the prior season. An extremely quick player with good ball-handling and passing skills, the 5-foot-10 native of Pomona, Calif., was a strong contributor and respected leader in practice last year and comes into this season with a solid knowledge of the Cougar system. The sophomore tandem of Michael Loyd, Jr. and Jimmer Fredette, both recruited as combo guards, will also be strong contenders for point-guard minutes in 2008-09. Both players saw backup minutes last season and both can also contribute at the shooting guard slot. At 6-foot-1 with a wide wingspan, Loyd is a meddling defender who can push the ball on offense and knock down big shots. The 6-foot-2 Fredette played valuable minutes at the point during the latter part of last season after primarily playing as the backup shooting guard earlier in the year. At either position, Fredette can make things happen for the Cougars with the ability to create shots for himself and his teammates. Six-foot redshirt freshman Matt Pinegar could also earn time at the point after sitting out last season.
The wing is deep and should be a strong suit for the Cougars in 2008-09. Led by reigning MWC Player of the Year Lee Cummard, the Cougars boast a host of talented options on the perimeter. A three-year starter and top perimeter defender, Cummard has good ball-handling skills, excellent shooting range and the toughness to rebound and finish in traffic. He has helped the Cougars achieve a 72-26 (.735) record and three straight postseason invitations, including NCAA Tournament bids the last two years. Under the tutelage of Coach Rose, Cummard and the Cougars have earned recognition in the top-25 rankings during each of the past two seasons while becoming the first MWC team to achieve back-to-back outright MWC championships. The other starting wing position will need to be filled in the absence of departed senior Sam Burgess, who provided steady leadership and shooting in his lone season as the full-time starter. Among those who could team up with Cummard on the wings are Fredette, Loyd, Pinegar, senior Archie Rose, sophomore Jackson Emery, freshman Charles Abouo and junior Jonathan Tavernari. Even though he has logged most of his minutes at the 4-position the past two seasons, Tavernari could see more minutes on the wing, especially after gaining valuable experience playing shooting guard for the Brazilian Senior National Team this summer. With a solid 6-foot-6 frame and improved defense, he should find more minutes on the perimeter as a junior, where he is on pace to be BYU’s all-time three-point record holder. Fredette should play a significant role after a solid freshman season. He, along with Cummard and Tavernari, give the Cougars three shooters who can knock down shots from anywhere on the floor. Emery, a valuable contributor as a defender and clutch shooter prior to his two-year missionary service, could factor in as he makes the transition back to playing shape. Rose is a good shooter with good size and returns with a year of experience playing behind Cummard. Loyd and Pinegar could find minutes as well along with Abouo, who has the tools to play a strong role on both ends of the floor as an excellent shooter with explosive athleticism and a 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame.
While replacing All-MWC center Trent Plaisted in the post will be difficult, the Cougars have the fortune of returning a two-year reserve who was a highly sought-after recruit coming out of high school. At 6-foot-11, Chris Miles was a two-time 4A State MVP out of Timpview High School in Provo. An excellent shot-blocker and defender who runs the floor well, he was ranked as high as the No. 2 post player in the West out of high school. He averaged 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game as a freshman for BYU in 2004-05, using his quickness and versatility to make an impact in his first season with the Cougars. After returning from a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he played in all but one game for the Cougars as a sophomore, averaging 8.6 minutes, 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game while working his way into playing shape. He posted season highs of 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. The Cougars also return 6-foot-10 senior Gavin MacGregor and 6-foot-10 freshman James Anderson in the center spot. MacGregor was forced to sit out last season due to a foot injury but is ready to return in 2008-09. His last action for the Cougars was in France during their 2007 summer tour when he averaged 10.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and a team-high 71 percent shooting in five games. He added 1.2 points in 11 appearances as a walk-on in 2006-07. He brings a tough defensive inside presence. At Burroughs High School in Ridgecrest, Calif., he achieved career highs of 25 points, 26 rebounds and nine blocked shots. Freshman James Anderson sat out last year as a redshirt after returning from a mission. Coach Rose can now add his 6-foot-10 shot-blocking size to the mix in the post. A first-team all-state prep out of Page, Ariz., where he set the state record with 14 blocks in a game, Anderson was a McDonald’s High School All-America nominee known for his athleticism, hard work and ability to run the floor. With his outstanding shooting touch and ability to score facing the basket, he should contribute to the Cougars’ success in the post in 2008-09. The 4-position should be strong with All-MWC Third Team player Jonathan Tavernari returning along with heralded freshman Noah Hartsock. Tavernari provides match-up problems as an undersized but strong-rebounding 4-man who can take people out on the perimeter with deadly results. With range well beyond the three-point line and a full arsenal of shots and moves in his repertoire, Tavernari is a tough guard who has the ability to lead the league in scoring and take over games. The 6-foot-8 Hartsock comes to Provo after two years of missionary service. A native of Bartlesville, Okla., Hartsock had the third-best scoring average in the state with 27.6 points per game as a senior at Bartlesville High School in 2005-06 while earning 6A Coaches Player of the Year and Tulsa World Player of the Year honors. Oklahoma’s Jim Thorpe Award winner and a McDonald’s High School All-America nominee, Hartsock added 8.0 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per contest as a senior. A highly skilled offensive player with strong post moves, he has a soft touch from midrange and a solid stroke behind the arc. He has excellent quickness and strength to complement his size. Freshman Michael Boswell, another McDonald’s High School All-America nominee, could also factor in in the post.