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BYU coach Mark Pope will be ‘super aggressive’ in the transfer portal. Here’s what he’s looking for

BYU coach Mark Pope yells out instructions as BYU and Saint Mary’s play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. The Gaels won 57-56. Pope plans on scouring the transfer portal in hopes of improving his roster heading into the Big 12.
BYU coach Mark Pope yells out instructions as BYU and Saint Mary’s play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. The Gaels won 57-56. Pope plans on scouring the transfer portal in hopes of improving his roster heading into the Big 12. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

More than anything, BYU coach Mark Pope would love to be participating in the NCAA Tournament.

But after a 19-15 season, his Cougars are on the outside of March Madness looking in.

“We have this window from now until May 1 where guys get to take advantage of the one-time transfer. We’ll play it day-by-day as we figure this out.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

During a Zoom press conference with reporters Thursday afternoon to review the 2022-23 campaign and look ahead to the future, Pope said he may not have time to watch those pulse-pounding tournament games because he’s too busy helping his players improve and building his roster for next season, when BYU joins the vaunted Big 12.

Pope has compared the challenge, and the climb ahead, to being dropped off at the base camp of Mount Everest.

This week, Pope is in the process of meeting with and interviewing his players as he performs an “autopsy” of the season.

And, of course, Pope will be active when it comes to adding talent, experience and depth from the transfer portal.

“We’ll be super aggressive in the portal and see if we can augment our daily growth with a couple of veteran bodies,” he said.

What exactly will the Cougars be looking for in the portal?

Pope, who just completed his fourth season at the helm, outlined three qualities he wants from potential players: shooting, the ability to avoid turnovers and experience.

“We went from No. 4 in the country (in shooting effectiveness) … to this year being in the low 200s in the country. The second thing we talk about is possessing the ball. That’s been our mission all year long. That’s been a four-year decline,” Pope said. “Another thing that has been a four-year decline is our experience, our age. We went from being a top-10 most veteran team our first year, every year we’ve declined. This year, we were almost 300th in terms of experience.

“The great thing about being a young team is it’s like tithing,” he added. “You can be perfect at it. The guys made perfect progress from yesterday to today toward getting older. Everyone is a day older. It’s going to be a step-by-step. … We’re super excited about taking care of issue No. 3.”

The transfer portal opened this week and already hundreds of players have flooded the market. BYU walk-on Hao Dong was one of them.

“We have this window from now until May 1 where guys get to take advantage of the one-time transfer,” Pope said. “We’ll play it day-by-day as we figure this out.”

Will there be more attrition on a Cougar roster that is losing seniors Rudi Williams and Gideon George?

“I don’t know. We’ll see. I think the guys are pretty focused on moving forward right now. This transfer portal is super complicated. There are so many factors that come into play,” Pope said. “There are some factors on our side in terms of what BYU is and what it stands for and how you have to live here. And there are some parts in terms of dynamics with NIL for sure that’s not supposed to come into play with the transfer portal but it clearly is in a really, really deep way. It’s free agency every year. We’ll see how it goes.”

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Asked if his program is missing out on some recruiting battles due to NIL, Pope said, “Yes, of course. Right now, that is certainly a heavy filter. That’s a space where we’re going to continue to grow and find out how to do it in a way that’s in harmony with our university.”

BYU’s Royal Blue collective helps student-athletes find “legal and compliant” NIL opportunities so that they can profit from their name, image and likeness. Cougar fans can make contributions to assist BYU student-athletes.

But NIL is not an even playing field in college sports.

“This NIL money is a real part of this. It is not the end-all, be-all. There are some programs that were really successful about buying teams. This is a real part of this process,” Pope said. “It’s going to be a complicated thing here at BYU. It’s a very new concept here. Donors and fans are appropriately cautious. … We are not on the cutting edge right now of NIL. And that’s OK. That’s probably appropriate for BYU.

“I do think we’ll continue to grow there. It’s a massively important part of college athletics right now. We’re going to figure that out the BYU way,” he continued. “For us, it’s probably not going to be at a place where it serves as a quick fix. Hopefully, we can find a way where it’s an incredibly positive experience for our student athletes and can be more than just a cash handout.

“It can be a life-changing growing experience. That’s what we’re chasing. While that may not harvest immediate results, I think in the long-term, it’s going to be an incredibly winning approach. It’s not a quick fix.”

BYU head coach Mark Pope exits the court after the Cougars lost to No. 8 Gonzaga , 75-74, at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023.
BYU head coach Mark Pope exits the court after the Cougars lost to No. 8 Gonzaga , 75-74, at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News