PROVO -- Five highly regarded recruits have signed NCAA letters-of-intent to play basketball at BYU for coach Steve Cleveland.
Four top in-state prospects -- Brighton High's Jesse Pinegar (6-9, forward/center), Cottonwood High's Derek Dawes (6-11, center), Provo High's Jacob Chrisman (6-9, forward) and UVSC transfer Travis Hansen (6-6, guard/forward) -- join Gilbert, Arizona's Austin Ainge (6-1, point guard) to make up one of the best recruiting classes to ever sign with the Cougars.
Pinegar, who signed with the Cougars after issuing a verbal commitment last year, averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and three assists for Brighton High School last season and is rated the No. 1 center in the west by Pac-West Hoops. A two-time all-state and all-region star for the Bengals, the agile 6-9 Pinegar has been named a BCI All-American and earned numerous other honors, including being named to the "Fab 15" list as one of the top 15 players west of the Mississippi.
"Jesse is one of the most skilled offensive post players in the country," Cleveland said. "He is an outstanding passer and shooter. He will enter our program playing the four position but over time should be able to play the three, four and five spots. He has all the tools to be a very special player during his time at BYU. He can score and will give immediate help to a program that needs depth and talent on the front line."
Another big addition to the Cougars' front line will be Dawes, who is listed as the No. 3 center prospect in the west by Pac-West Hoops. The 6-11 center averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for Cottonwood High School as a junior while earning all-state and all-region honors. An Eagle Scout and a good student, Dawes was rated among the top-10 centers who attended the invitation-only Nike Camp, where he was an honorable mention selection on the Bob Gibbons All-Tournament Team.
"Derek is on one of the most improved post players in the country," Cleveland said. "He runs the floor well, has good hands and feet and has the potential to be a great defender. Derek's commitment to the weight room has given him the confidence to be a real presence inside, and I love his ability to pop out and knock down the mid-range jumper. Derek has a huge upside -- he has just scratched the surface of the player he can become. His presence will be felt immediately."
Chrisman is a two-sport athlete that will play basketball and baseball at BYU. The 6-9 forward averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks as a junior at Provo High School while earning all-state honors. A two-time all-region player, Chrisman is extremely mobile and a strong rebounder. He maintains a 3.9 GPA while also playing baseball. He played for Vance Law, BYU's new baseball coach, as a pitcher and first baseman.
"Jake may be the sleeper of all the West Coast recruits," Cleveland said. "He has always been an athletic low post player who can score in a multitude of ways, but he has now developed the perimeter skills to play on the outside as well. I love his attitude and work ethic -- he is a hard-nosed competitor who knows how to win. He will also have an immediate impact on the program."
Hansen, who will transfer from UVSC after receiving his associate degree in December, will enroll at BYU for the winter semester and practice with the team before beginning his final three years of eligibility next fall. The 6-6 sophomore graduated from Mountain View High School in Orem in 1996 where he was the team MVP and averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists while earning all-state and all-region honors. An ACT non-qualifier out of high school, Hansen played one year at Utah Valley State College before serving an LDS Church mission to Santiago, Chile. At UVSC, Hansen averaged 11 points, five rebounds and four assists while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. Playing with current BYU forward Silester Rivers on that team, Hansen game on strong at the end of the year, averaging 18.6 points per game over the final 10 games.
"Travis will have an immediate impact on our team," Cleveland said. "He is a combination guard who has explosive athleticism and is capable of scoring inside and outside. He will be a great asset to the motion offense because of his ability to penetrate and post-up smaller guards. With Travis on the floor, our team rebounding will be strengthened. He also has a great work ethic."
Austin Ainge, son of former BYU and NBA great and current Phoenix Suns coach Danny Ainge, averaged 17 points, six rebounds and five assists as a junior point guard at Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz. An outstanding student with a 3.9 GPA, Ainge earned honorable mention all-state honors as a junior while being named to the All-East Valley First Team. A Street & Smith Preseason All-Phoenix First Team selection, Ainge will go on a two-year LDS Church mission before enrolling at BYU.
"Austin is a point guard who has a total understanding of the game and the unique ability to distribute the ball to teammates when they are ready to score rather than just when they are open," Cleveland said. "He is an outstanding three-point shooter and has developed a crafty 'Jeff Hornacek' runner in the lane. He is also a cerebral player who understands how to lead a team and has made significant development physically through off-season weight training."
This recruiting class was a vital part of a multi-year strategy coach Cleveland and his staff developed when they first came to BYU three years ago. "When I arrived at BYU I knew that the key to rebuilding the program for the long term was to focus on the very best high school student athlete and that we would have to rely heavily on the LDS student athlete," Cleveland said. "We immediately targeted the ninth and 10th grade classes.
"It takes time to develop relationships and that trust between a coach, a player and his family. It required a bit of faith and pioneering spirit for some of our first recruits, players like Mark Bigelow, Daniel Bobik and Shaun Opunui, to commit to BYU but they understood the vision we have as a coaching staff. Today, five more outstanding athletes who share that same vision have committed to BYU. As a result of LDS Church missions, these players will represent different recruiting classes, but regardless of when they actually play, each will have a significant impact on the program.
"I am pleased with the recruiting success we have had over the past two years and I am grateful to a staff that continues to be so diligent in their efforts to rebuild this program. The results are growing, and we are committed to continue the building of this program with the anticipation that we will once again compete for post-season opportunities."