With some talented new additions and more depth at nearly every position, the 2002-03 BYU men's basketball team is poised to challenge for the Mountain West Conference title and its second NCAA tournament invite in the last three years.
Coming off its third straight postseason tournament appearance, the 2002-03 Cougars have significantly more experience than last year's team, which achieved an 18-12 record and advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament despite returning only one starter and boasting just two seniors and one junior. In contrast, this year's roster includes nine upperclassmen among eight returning lettermen and five transfers.
BYU coach Steve Cleveland will again rely on the talents of returning starters Travis Hansen, a second-team All-Mountain West Conference guard, Mark Bigelow, an honorable mention All-MWC forward, and center Jared Jensen, the MWC Co-Freshman of the Year. Hansen, the lone senior on the roster, returns as the team's leading scorer (15.6 ppg) and rebounder (6.2 rpg). Bigelow, the 1999 Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, was the team's second-leading scorer (14.9 ppg) despite fighting through conditioning issues in his first season back from a two-year LDS Church mission. Jensen started 25 of 30 games in his first season and averaged 8.6 points while showing significant potential as a scorer in the post.
Junior combo guard Ricky Bower, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Wisconsin, and junior forward Jake Shoff, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Weber State, will get their chance to play after sitting out last season because of transfer rules. Bower is considered among the team's best shooters and is expected to play a significant role on the perimeter, while Shoff was Weber State's leading rebounder (6.0) as a sophomore.
Three highly regarded junior college transfers signed with the Cougars this year and should have an impact on the perimeter and in the post. Rafael Araujo, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound center from Sao Paulo, Brazil, earned second-team NJCAA All-America honors at Arizona Western College last year. Point guard Kevin Woodberry led Dixie State College to the NJCAA national title, while Luiz Lemes, also from Sao Paulo, was a first-team NJCAA Region 2 combo guard from Eastern Oklahoma State College.
In all, BYU's roster includes one senior, eight juniors, four sophomores and two freshman. Ten players have earned Division I letters, eight with the Cougars, while three bring strong junior college credentials.
Bower, Woodberry (6-foot, 170-pound junior), and Lemes (6-foot-3, 175-pound junior) could all play a role at the point. Woodberry is a true point guard and strong defender while Bower and Lemes are combo guards who could also see time at the shooting guard spot. Woodberry, a Phoenix, Ariz., native, led Dixie State College to a 34-3 record and the 2002 NJCAA National Championship as a second-team All-Scenic West Athletic Conference selection. Woodberry led the Rebels in assists (3.6), steals (2.0), three-point field goals (73) and free throw percentage (.815). He shot 41.2 percent from the floor, including 41 percent on threes, while averaging 11.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per contest. Bower was considered one of the Cougars' top players in practice last year during a redshirt season. He is an excellent shooter and tough competitor who shot 44 percent from three-point range and 81 percent from the free throw line as a sophomore at Wisconsin while scoring 4.3 points per game. Lemes shot 47 percent from the floor, 40 percent on threes, and 76 percent from the free throw line as Eastern Oklahoma's second-leading scorer at 15.1 points per game. He led the team in steals (2.2) and was second in assists (3.6) while playing strictly the two-guard last year but played primarily the point his freshman season. During his two seasons at Eastern Oklahoma State College (Wilburton, Okla.), Lemes led the Mountaineers to back-to-back Region 2 Tournament runner-up finishes with records of 23-8 and 25-7. Returning reserve Terry Nashif (5-foot-10 sophomore) is a true point who played in 21 games last year in limited action. Austin Ainge (6-foot-1 freshman), son of BYU All-American Danny Ainge, is a heady floor leader and strong shooter who returned from a mission in August. If he doesn't redshirt in 2002-03 to condition after the two-year mission layoff, he will be another talent adding depth at the point.
Hansen is an MWC Player of the Year candidate entering his final season. The senior was BYU's best player last year and should continue to improve in 2002-03. At 6-foot-6, Hansen is an extremely athletic player who can create his own shot or knock down the three. His explosiveness was evidenced by game highs of 30 points and 17 rebounds last year. Hansen shot 42 percent from three-point range and 76 percent from the line while totaling a team-leading 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Bower and Lemes, who made 66 threes (2.1 per game) last season at Eastern Oklahoma, will also see time on the wing. Recently returned missionary Marc Roberts (6-foot-3 sophomore) and incoming freshman Jermaine Odjegba, a 6-foot-5 guard out of Lake Park, Fla., will add depth but could also redshirt.
Bigelow should return in better shape after a summer of condition and strength training. In his first year back from a two-year mission layoff, he showed signs of his potential with a 31-point performance in a win over Arizona State while averaging 14.9 points overall. As a freshman in 1999, he led BYU in scoring (15.0) and rebounding (6.3). A threat from long range, Bigelow led the Cougars last year in three-pointers made with 65 on 42 percent shooting and holds the BYU record for consecutive games with a trey (22). He made two or more threes in 18 games last year while also making 80 percent from the line. Hansen will likely swing to the three-position when Bigelow is out of the game, with Lemes or Bower playing two-guard. John Allen (6-foot-7 sophomore), who appeared in 18 games as a freshman, returns from a mission and could be an option off the bench.
Araujo and Jensen could both see time the four and five positions. At 6-foot-11, Araujo is a strong, physical player who runs the floor well and has range on the perimeter (14-49 from three-point range), while Jensen is developing his mid-range game that he wasn't asked to use last year playing exclusively the five spot. Returning letterman Bart Jepsen, a 6-foot-9 junior, played in all 30 games last year off the bench, averaging 7.8 minutes per game. He runs the floor well and is able to make an impact defensively. Junior Jake Shoff, who sat out last year due to transfer rules, is a rebounding specialist who led Weber State on the boards (6.0) as a sophomore. A wide load at 265 pounds, Shoff has a nice shot as he added 7.6 points per game as a Wildcat while shooting 56 percent from the floor. Allen, who has shown good progress since returning from his mission, is a threat from three-point range and a tough competitor inside who could also be a factor with his ability to play out on the perimeter.
Araujo, Jensen and returning letterman Dan Howard (7-foot junior) will all see time at the five-position. Araujo led Arizona Western to a 28-3 record and No. 6 national ranking last year before losing in the finals of the NJCAA Region 1 Tournament. One of the top 10 junior college players in the country, he scored 17.9 points and grabbed 10.7 rebounds for the Matadors while shooting 57 percent from the floor, 28 percent on threes and 67 percent from the line. Araujo and Jensen are BYU's primary post-scoring threats while Howard is a defensive specialist who played a significant role during the latter part of last season. He averaged 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds over the last nine games in 15.7 minutes of action. Overall, he averaged 1.8 points and 2.2 rebounds in 9.5 minutes.
A potential 17 games against teams who qualified for postseason play last year and spots in the University of The Virgin Islands Paradise Jam (U.S. Virgin Islands) and ESPN's Touchstone Energy All-College Classic (Oklahoma City) highlight a tough and challenging schedule in 2002-03. BYU's nonconference schedule includes teams from 12 different conferences. The Pac-10, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Atlantic 10, Big Sky, Big West, Mid-American, Mid-Continent, Missouri Valley, West Coast and Western Athletic are all represented on BYU's non-league schedule. Overall, 12 teams on the schedule earned postseason bids last season, seven advancing to the NCAA tournament and five playing in the NIT. Six teams earned a conference regular season or league tournament title and 12 placed in the top three in their league standings. In all, the schedule includes a total of 29 regular season games and two exhibitions. The Cougars will play 14 regular season games in the Marriott Center, where BYU owns the nation's longest active home-court victory streak at 36 games. Excluding the MWC Tournament, BYU plays 15 road games, including 11 away contests and four neutral site games. Nine teams -- Arizona State, Creighton, San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Utah State, Southern Utah, Weber State and Pepperdine -- were also on last year's nonconference schedule. BYU earned a 6-3 record in those games, losing at UCSB and dropping overtime games at both Utah State and Pepperdine. New teams on this year's schedule include Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Toledo, Rice, Idaho State and potential contests with Michigan, Virginia Tech or St. Bonaventure. The 2003 Mountain West Conference Basketball Championship Tournament will be played March 12-15 in Las Vegas at the Thomas and Mack Center. This year's conference tournament will end a four-year run in Las Vegas before the 2004 event moves to the Pepsi Center in Denver.