BYU senior Jared Jensen says he and his teammates are excited to play a real game against a good team when the Cougars face BYU-Hawai`i Friday. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- The BYU men's basketball team opens its exhibition season Friday with a historic matchup against BYU-Hawai`i. The Cougars and Seasiders will meet for the first time at 7 p.m. in the Marriott Center.
"BYU-Hawai`i is always a very good program," BYU coach Steve Cleveland said. "They are well-coached, well-organized and will throw a lot of different looks at us. They had a great season last year and they'll be a good test for us."
Considered among the top teams in Division II, BYU-Hawai`i returns four starters, including two former Cougars, from last year's 23-6 team that won the Pacific West Conference with a 12-3 mark. Former BYU two-sport athlete and Provo High product Jake Chrisman averaged 23.3 points last season and earned PacWest Player of the Year honors. The Seasider's second-leading scorer last year was another former Cougar, Shawn Opunui. The Orem High graduate made 77 threes and led the nation in three-point accuracy at 54 percent while scoring 16 points per game.
Unlike exhibition games in the past that featured a newly formed collection of former college players, this year BYU will play two college teams during exhibition play and the Cougars expect to benefit from the competition.
"We have so much to work on and there's definitely a learning curve so these exhibition games are really important for us," Cleveland said. "We get a chance to try our skills against other teams and see where we are. I'm interested to see which one of our guys can come through in clutch situations, step it up and execute the game plan. We've got a lot of good shooters this year so we're not going to pass up transition threes."
Cleveland has a roster of eight lettermen, including six returning from last year's team. The Cougars also feature some talented junior college transfers and a top-20 recruiting class that includes three freshmen who are 6-foot-10 or taller.
"I'm going to start the guys who have been around and in the program for a while but we have a lot of other talented players who will make valuable contributions as they learn the system," Cleveland said. "We're going to play as many people as we can, but we're going to start building our team and getting our rotation set. We have a pretty solid nucleus. It's just important that our new players step up and find their roles."
Tickets to Friday's game can be purchased at the Marriott Center Ticket Office or by calling 378-BYU1 or online at BYUtickets.com. Students can also attend with a BYU All-Sport Card.