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Pope Hire Good for BYU Big Men

20 May 2011 Brett Richins 14 Comments

New BYU Assistant Coach Mark Pope (Photo - Brian Westerholt)

Wednesday’s hiring of Mark Pope as an assistant basketball coach should be a very good thing for BYU’s inside game.

As a player, the 6-foot-10 Pope played in the post in the SEC and PAC-10 in college. He also had a seven-year, journeyman NBA career and played professionally in Turkey.

He was a team captain on the 1996 Kentucky Wildcat team that won the national championship under then coach Rick Pitino, averaging over seven points and five rebounds per game.

He transferred to Kentucky after playing his first two seasons at Washington where he was named as the PAC-10 Freshman of the Year and set a freshman school record for the Huskies by averaging 8.1 rebounds per game.

He comes to Provo after serving as an assistant for one year at Wake Forest, following a season as the director of basketball operations at Georgia.

While it hasn’t been announced exactly what Pope’s responsibilities will be on Dave Rose’s staff, you can bet than one of them will be working with the Cougar big men.

BYU certainly hopes he will have the chance to coach 6-9 star forward Brandon Davies next season. The junior-to-be is trying to get himself back into school this fall, following his much-publicized suspension last season.

The Cougars also hope 6-9 forward Chris Collinsworth will return to complete health following season-ending surgery last year.

BYU loses 6-10 center James Anderson, who decided to hang up basketball after his junior season, but gain two freshmen, return missionary big men in Nate Austin, a 6-10 forward from Lone Peak High School, and Ian Harward, a 6-10 center from Orem High.

Rose also signed 6-10 post player Isaac Neilson from Mission Viejo, California this past November. Neilson is expected to leave on a mission in December however, and will not play for BYU until 2014.

The truth be told, the Cougars have long been in need of someone that can come in and really coach up their guys in the middle. If there has been one criticism of BYU basketball over the years, it’s the perception that the program’s big men have failed to really develop to their full potential.

Pope’s experience and background certainly fills that need, being the first BYU assistant in recent memory to have actually played in the post during his career.

However, his addition to the staff is not likely to fill the significant void of coaching the offense, created by the loss of Dave Rice to UNLV.

The most likely move on offense will be to shift much of the responsibility to Terry Nashif, with initial oversight by Rose as Terry grows into the role. A former point guard for the Cougars, Nashif was given more responsibilities with the offense last season under Rice’s tutelage, with the expectation that Rice could well end up getting his first head coaching gig following the 2010-11 season.

Rose considers Nashif to have a bright future as a coach.

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  • Mike Rose said:

    Seems like he will be a good help for the big men. I still feel like skill development falls primarily on the player. Rafa Arajuo and Keena Young were in the gym all day, that’s why they got better.

    It will be interesting to see who is calling the offensive plays in games and running the offense in practice next year. That would be a big upgrade in responsibilty if Nahif gets that.

  • Seasider said:

    BYU fans have been calling for an assistant coach who specializes in coaching the bigs for years. It’s nice to have a coach who will make an immediate impact on BYU’s post-up game which became a bit an achilles heel for last year’s team.

  • BYUdeek said:

    The problem with our bigs has been more of a lack of depth than anything else. If Davies makes it back, Collinsworth is healthy, and the additional coaching, BYU will like a completely different ball team.

  • AZCoug said:

    Great News, but a few questions on tempo: I didn’t see Pope play, did he like to run as a big man? Did Wake Forest like to run their big men?

    I thought one of Andersen’s issues was that he had a tendency to slow down the tempo when playing large minutes (as opposed to Davies).
    Do we feel comfortable that Pope likes his “big”s to run?

  • Brett Richins said:


    The Cougars will run and so will there big men.

  • Chodilicus said:

    Here is my question, is he a good big man coach just because he was a post player? I don’t know one way or the other but he has exactly one year of experience as a coach. Our whole staff has almost no experience now and I was really hoping we would bring in an experienced guy to be the Assistant HC, possibly with college HC experience.

    So this guy seems to have been a really hard worker as a player and he had size. But it doesn’t seem like he had much skill. Does he know how to coach big man skills just because he was tall? Again, I am not saying he doesn’t but I am just asking the question. Just because he is tall doesn’t necessarily make him a big-man coach.

    Is anyone else concerned about the lack of experience on this staff?

    Nashif – 3 years
    LaComb – 1 year
    Hall – none (director of basketball operations)
    Pope – 1 year at WF

  • J 2 said:

    I can understand the trepidation on this board regarding the lack of experience. I feel it would be more warranted if Coach Rose didn’t have the track record that he has since becoming head coach. If it were a big concern to Tom Holmoe I don’t think the offer would have been approved. I guess I am wearing blue tinted glasses, but until there is proof of failure, it seems that it will be a good fit and beneficial to the program.
    Welcome Coach Pope, glad to have you!

  • Rev SJ Bobkins DD. PhD. (Church of BYU Football) said:

    BYU loses 6-10 center James Anderson, who decided to hang up basketball after his junior season, but gain two freshmen, return missionary big men in Nate Austin, a 6-10 forward from Lone Peak High School, and Ian Harward, a 6-10 center from Orem High.
    Rose also signed 6-10 post player Isaac Neilson from Mission Viejo, California

    Dave, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? All these kids are not only REED thin, but the 801 kids are not exactly known for their offensive explosiveness. WHERE IS THE BEEF MAN! Not one of the County boys hits 220 pounds to go on their 6′ 10 and 6′ 11″ bodies.
    2010 showed the Cougars need meat not future members of the Russell Larson/Shawn Bradley Stickman Club. We have to have muscles, if we can’t find them in high schools we should have looked at the JC all-American lists early in the game. James Anderson makes Austin and Harward look like pikers in comparison.

    Big D+ with this recruiting effort

    I have hopes that Mark Pope can break the 801 addiction that plagues this “could be fantastic” program. Any Haws or Emery kids are fine, but NO MORE 6′ 10″ 200 pound sticks, these two didn’t gain an ounce on their missions, neither were hot recruits or even 2,3,4,or 5 star high school recruits in their senior years.

  • BlueHusky said:

    I live in Mission Viejo. Saw him play in state tournament. He’s only a kid, but his uncles are big dudes. He’s fairly spastic – several rebounds hit him in the chest, but he’ll get coordinated as he get older, maybe. Not much hops, but at 6’10’ you don’t need 40″. His coach had him playing high post … and he didn’t shoot much. Don’t know if he has low post moves. Don’t remember him dunking. Funny that his coach didn’t have him down low. Decent passer, made a couple of shots, but I don’t watch high school ball, so not sure what the standards are. Uncle tells me he’s much better scorer than he showed in the game I saw.

    Mission is a great idea for him – he’ll fill out some, but sadly, it won’t be muscle unless he works out as much as he can. My guess is that he’ll ride the pine for a year when he gets back. Then we’ll see. Doesn’t look like a potential Nowitzki. I’ll be surprised if he starts before he graduates. But Bill Russell couldn’t even make his high school team – people develop at different rates.

  • SoCal Cougar said:

    I also live in Mission Viejo and know Issac Neilson well. He is fantastic young man and was underutilized and under coached in high school. His coach really didn’t do him many favors in his development. He has the potential to be good at the next level if he can develop some better post moves, add some bulk and play more agressive. Now is a great time for Pope’s hiring. We have a number of young post players who really need a good coach to help them develop.

  • Bob Henstra said:

    Reverend, we take the best of who we can get. Hang your head if you wish, but our big guys now will push each other to new heights. Coach Rose takes bigs who can run. Now we have a coach who can teach our bigs great post moves, something we’ve needed for years.

    With Pope, we’ll be better than just fine!


  • CaseyA said:

    Rev. SJ Bobkins,

    Austin is extremely talented but was overshadowed by the amazing Haws in HS. I think the 6’10” is a bit of an overstatement. He is probably closer to 6’9″. In addition, he has gained a lot of weight as a missionary. Much of his weight gain will stay on. I expect he will be about 230 lbs at the start of basketball season. In addition, he has great passing and shooting skills for a big man. His legitimate range beyond the 3 point line and his ability to put the ball on the floor makes him more Chris Collinsworth than James Anderson.

    I don’t know much about Harward but people who I trust feel very confident that he will be a good big for us as he develops. In short, I think both of these young men will do well for us.

    I find it funny that you criticize them and then compare them to Russel Larson and Shawn Bradley. Both Russ and Shawn had enormous impacts at BYU. Either of them was better than Davies was last year. Either of them would have made last year’s team a Final Four team. In short, I believe you are putting too much stock in “beef.” If your team runs, beef is definitely overrated. Increasingly, even if your team doesn’t run, beef is overrated in the college game.

  • Rob B said:

    I really appreciate Mike Rose’s comments. Those comments say a lot about what we’ve seen over the past few years in terms of low post offense.

    I have been one who has thought we lacked guys who can score with their back to the basket since Dave Rose took over, and I know that we’re not going to see 4s who score 15 point every night on a team that features guard play as much as BYU’s offense does. It’s the guard play that drives this offense, and it works very well, so don’t think I’m complaining here. I just want to make one point about low post offense in this system.

    I saw something this last season that made me realize you don’t necesarily have to have a physical guy who can score consistently on the low blocks in BYU’s offense. What I saw was Hartsock and Davies developing into good passers, and developing chemistry with each other. Those two began finding each other for easy buckets, and they got the ball to the open wings. I hope we see Harward and Austin develop the same chemistry, and if they are as committed as Keena Young and Hafa were it will happen. They have an advantage like Hartsock and Davies in that they came in to the program with simialr eligibility, so they will get to play together for a long time.

    It’s interesting to me to watch Dave Rose strategize around the fact that his emphasis is guard play, and big physical post players who want to score a lot may not want to come and play for BYU. It’s amazing how much success BYU has had with this model.

  • Chodilicus said:

    Rev, I think you are confused about what BYU wants to be in basketball. Coach Rose wants an up-tempo, run and gun style. We want agile post players that run the floor well. I think that Coach Rose specifically recruits to that. Yes we want good athletes and we need some rebounding and post defending.

    But we will not get nor do we want the traditional center types. We passed on David Foster and for good reason. Those guys just cannot play in this system and would slow us down, much like Anderson did. We want 6’10” guys with length who run the floor real well and can rebound. We don’t need or want bruisers.

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