Cougars represent at Big 12 Tipoff

BYU head men’s basketball coach Mark Pope along with players Spencer Johnson, Fousseyni Troare and Dallin Hall represented the Cougars at their first-ever Big 12 Tipoff on Wednesday morning


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – BYU head men’s basketball coach Mark Pope along with players Spencer Johnson, Fousseyni Traore and Dallin Hall represented the Cougars at their first-ever Big 12 Tipoff on Wednesday morning at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.

“I could not be more excited to be here,” Pope said. “This has been 100 years in the making for BYU athletics and men’s basketball to have a chance to be in the best league in all of college basketball. We’re incredibly humbled, excited and also bringing some confidence into our work into this league. We can’t wait to get going.”

The quartet spent the morning at the home of the Big 12 Tournament meeting with local, regional and national media discussing the Cougars move to the Big 12 and their expectations after being picked to finish 13th in the preseason poll.

For those that have not been out to Provo for a game, what is that environment like and what can fans of opposing teams expect from BYU?

I'm happy for every team in the Big 12 and every player and every fan base because, like so many venues in the Big 12, Provo, and the Marriott Center in particular, are incredible places.

Playing a much different schedule, a much less nationwide league in the WCC, a great basketball league. We're still 16,000 strong every single game, and we expect that to bump up to 18 or 19 a game this year. Just as an example, season tickets sold out before they were ever available to the public.

We have an unbelievable student section in The ROC that is legendary. The Marriott Center is an incredible venue to watch a game, and we have passionate fans.

You're going from a conference where you were annually picked second or third to a conference now where you've been picked 13th. Much harder conference, obviously. But in a way, does that kind of take some pressure off you guys? Does it allow you to get your footing a little bit?

You know, I mentioned this earlier, but I was super excited about the 13th pick. I have four daughters, and we managed to make it to a couple of the Taylor Swift concerts this year, and her favorite number is 13, and I think that bodes well for BYU basketball this season. We're really excited about that.

I think the pressure is always there. If you're running from pressure, you shouldn't be in athletics. Actually we love it.

I think you're pressured picked at 13 and pressured picked at No. 1 and pressured picked everywhere, but certainly we are very humble moving in this league, but we're very confident, also, and we're coming in here to compete and grow into winning, and we're really excited to do that. I don't know if anybody puts a lot of stock in the preseason picks, but we're excited to come compete.

What do you feel like this conference can do to lift up the BYU basketball brand?

Well, listen, everybody that plays in this conference has the opportunity to go against the best teams in the country every single night, for 18 straight games. You're given the opportunity, and it's just a matter of taking advantage of it.

You don't have to go hunt for Quad 1 games or great opponents or great venues or exposure. It's all here, ever present for you, and you just have to perform.

On the identity of this team

We are together. We’re confident. We’re resilient and we shoot the lights out of the ball. I anticipate we’re going to play up-tempo again. It’s a real strength for us when we can get out in transition and spread the floor that way. Last year we had such a new team and new guys. We’ve had a year of experience playing together and we’ve grown a lot together. In that sense, expect a big step forward from us.

On the first season in the Big 12

We’re excited. It’s definitely a new challenge for all of us. None of us have ever been here before. It’s going to be fun to compete against the best in the nation and see where we stack up. It’s a dream come true to do it with these guys.

On being the “Best Locker Room in America”

Our foreign tour really helped us spend a lot of time with each other and be more involved in each other’s lives outside of basketball. It also helped us spend time together on the court competing. We’ve grown a lot as we hold each other accountable. It’s not just a coach-led team and they say a player-led team is the best there can be. I think we’ve taken strides that way.

On being picked 13th in the preseason poll

It’s great. I’m glad they picked us 13th. It means we’re going to surprise some people. We’re going to be a lot better than people think. We’re excited to get out there and prove that to ourselves and everyone else.

On incoming transfer guard Dawson Baker

Dawson’s coming from UC Irvine. I want to say he averaged 15 points per game there. He’s an efficient scorer. He’s brought a nice element to our team. He’s a guy we can turn to when we need a bucket. He plays low to the ground and in control. He’s smooth. He will bring a nice scoring element to our team and be someone the defense really has to pay attention to.

On the other Big 12 teams

Big 12 games are always the games you see on ESPN primetime. So, I’ve seen what their crowds and venues are like. I’m excited to step in and experience it in person.

On being at Big 12 Media Day

It feels real now. We have the Big 12 logo on our jersies, on the court and all around. It’s go-time now.

On being the “Best Locker Room in America”

This team always feels like family. We always support each other no matter what. We’re a real brotherhood.

On being picked 13th in the preseason poll

I feel like everybody’s counting us out. So, we say, ‘Well, we have to go prove them wrong. We have to go prove that we belong.’

On how he would describe the Marriott Center to Big 12 fans

They just don’t know yet. It’s one of the crazy places. I’m so excited for them to walk into that gym.

On how the team’s approaching the Big 12

We have an attack mindset. We want to put our best foot forward and go in there with no fear. That’s the best way to play. We feel like when we play that way, we’re a very hard team to beat. We’re going into the conference with confidence in ourselves, our abilities and each other and have a faith mindset.

On strength and conditioning

Our new strength and conditioning coach [Michael Davie] has a lot of professional experience and he goes about things the right way. In practice, we’re really challenged by our coaches to get out and run. They hold us accountable, and we hold each other accountable. The training, mindset, approach and intensity has all increased.

On the return of guard Trevin Knell

It means a lot. He brings a lot to the table. He’s known for his shooting. We call him “The Shot Doctor.” He can shoot the cover off the ball. With that comes spacing. Guys aren’t going to help off as much. He’s going to cause fits for the defense. He’s also really good at cutting and shooting his floater. His leadership is also really important for our team going forward.

On incoming transfer center Aly Khalifa

Aly comes in with a lot of experience. He’s a super skilled big man, unlike anyone I’ve ever seen before. He can pass the ball and get it to places like I never thought possible. I got hit in the face by a backdoor pass from him the other day. I don’t know how he got it there. He can really shoot too. We’re learning to play with him. He’s going to make us a very different team that’s hard to guard.

On improvement in 3-point shooting

I think we will be improved. We have a year of experience under our belts with a lot of returning guys. We have a lot better feel for how to play with each other and that helps with shooting. We’ve been putting in a lot of work this offseason and we’re excited to see that payoff. We know there will be nights when shots aren’t falling but we’re going to find ways to win regardless.

On the team’s goals this season

For guys like Fouss and I, we’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament. That’s on the forefront of our minds. Coach Pope has big ambitions. He wants to win the Big 12. That’s what every team in the conference is setting out to do. It’s a journey and we’re going to figure out what it takes this season. We’ve been putting in a lot of work and we have those goals to make the NCAA Tournament and win the Big 12. We’re going to go out there and be confident and have an attacking mindset.