BYU’s youth in the front court, especially with the graduation of Brandon Davies, is certainly one reason why the guards are the strength of this year’s team. But make no mistake about it, BYU is legitimately talented at the guard positions.
Tyler Haws of course needs no introduction after finishing last season seventh nationally with 21.7 points per game. What’s scary is that he did that as a sophomore who had just returned from a two-year mission.
“I think that if you take all the return missionaries that we’ve had in our program over the 17 years I’ve actually been here and try to chart each one, I think Tyler was the abnormal return,” said Coach Rose. “He was terrific his first year [back] in every category: defensively, offensively, being able to rebound the ball, staying healthy. All those things are real issues for return missionaries.”
Now a preseason all-WCC selection, Haws had the benefit of representing the United States at the World University Games in Russia this past summer.
“It was a great experience,” said Haws. “I mean, anytime you can wear USA on your chest, it’s special and it means a lot, so I definitely was able to play against great competition. It was kind of my first international experience, but I learned a lot from the coaches I was with and the different players I was around, so hopefully I can translate [that] to the season a little bit.”
As for junior Matt Carlino, he’s struggled with consistency during his first two seasons, but has also been brilliant at times. He ended last season very strongly, averaging 18 points, 8 assists and 6.25 rebounds in BYU’s four NIT games.
Regarding Carlino’s progress in the offseason, Rose said that “the most impressive thing to us as a staff is how consistent he’s been. Defensively he’s really made a commitment to become a better defender, which will really help our guard line, and he’s a real versatile scorer.”
Rose is also very high on sophomore Kyle Collinsworth, saying, “He’s a hybrid kind of player where he’s capable of scoring 30 points in a game, getting 20 rebounds in a game, at a guard position, which is a little bit different.”
Rose called Collinsworth a natural born leader. After traveling to Russia this past summer to watch Haws play at the World University Games, Rose came away with added respect for Collinsworth. That’s because Collinsworth served a mission in Russia and held different leadership positions (including assistant to the president) early on during his time there, and Rose got to see firsthand how “tough” and “way different” that nation is.
The Cougar head coach noted how many big games Collinsworth played and started in before his mission, but also noted that he never really played his natural position as a true freshman. Rose has always been bullish on Collinsworth’s ability to play the point, but of course Collinsworth wasn’t about to take over Jimmer Fredette’s spot as a freshman.
Fredette may be gone now, but Carlino has been the starting point guard the majority of the past two seasons. This has raised concerns about how he and Collinsworth will coexist and about who will handle the ball and direct the offense. But in BYU’s up-tempo offense, the ball will often be brought up the court by whoever gets a defensive rebound or steal. Also, BYU’s guard line features versatile athletes that can play multiple positions (as evidenced by Collinsworth playing four different positions as a freshman).
“Matt and I, since practice started, we’ve been playing a lot together,” said Collinsworth. “We feel [we’re] getting in a rhythm. We’ve played really well together, so that’s pretty good.”
Meanwhile, Haws, Carlino and Collinsworth are the team captains, further signifying their importance to the Cougars.
“It’s great,” said Carlino about being named a captain. “It’s special to be a captain on one of your teams and it shows that the guys have respect for me and the coaches [do] as well, so it’s a good feeling.”
Of course, every team needs depth, and the Cougars look to have some promising options off the bench. This season the team also returns junior Anson Winder, who has some starting experience himself. Last year was a bit of a disappointment because he sprained his ankle shortly before the season started, but is now fully healthy and has looked good so far this offseason in practices and in BYU’s exhibition games.
Then there’s junior Skyler Halford, an NJCAA all-American first-team selection last season at Salt Lake Community College. Coach Rose noted that Halford has played a lot of college basketball, and thus bring with him a lot of experience. He won the three-point shooting contest at BYU’s recent Boom Shakalaka showcase, and should provide a boost to the Cougars’ outside shooting after it dropped off the past few seasons.
The Cougars have also added true freshman Frank Bartley to the roster. Hailing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make since coming to BYU has been getting used to the altitude.
As for what his strengths are, Bartley said, “I can defend really well. I’m kind of sneaky athletic I guess – quote-unquote sneaky athletic – so I can dunk on people, and people aren’t really [expecting to] see it in person.”
He put that athleticism and dunking ability on display during the dunk contest at the Boom Shakalaka, even jumping over 6-foot-10-inch Eric Mika for one of his dunks. Offensively, Bartley said he is a player who can penetrate to the basket and finish above the rim.
Collinsworth likes what he’s seen out of Bartley so far. Regarding what the freshman brings to the team, Collinsworth said, “Athleticism. He causes mismatches. He’s a very athletic guy and makes big plays for us.”
With the talent at the guard positions and the relative inexperience in the front court this season, the Cougars will sometimes go to a smaller lineup this season.
“It seems like a lot last year we were continually trying to sub and match up to other teams,” said Rose. “What we need to do is to cause more matchup problems ourselves, and I think we can do that as we play a little bit more diverse in our game. I think you’ll see us play four guards at times, try and make other teams match up with what we’re doing, and then give us an opportunity with some of the teams in the league to be able to match up with what they’re doing.”
Ask players like Collinsworth and Carlino, and they agree that their guard line this season appears to the best that BYU has had in the past few years.
“Definitely, I’d agree,” said Collinsworth. “We have a very good guard line that’s a very athletic guard line as well that can play multiple positions.”
“Yeah, I think everything’s great on paper, but you’ve got to go and got to perform, so it’s gonna be fun,” said Carlino. “I mean, I think it’s definitely gonna be a fun style to watch and I think we’re gonna be able to win a lot of games.”