Cougar Cagers optimistic for 2016-2017 season

BYU’s young 2016-2017 roster has plenty of talent that fans have been waiting to see suit up for the Cougars for years.

PROVO, Utah – Cougar fans, it’s time.

For years, fans have looked forward to the 2016-2017 season as a special one for the Cougar hoops team with the ‘Lone Peak 3′ finally reunited, this time as teammates at BYU.

Few are more excited than BYU Head Coach, Dave Rose.

“I think that part of the excitement and hype of this group is that there’s a few players we’ve been waiting to play together for a long time,” said Coach Rose. “When you look at TJ and Nick, when they came into my office and committed to us quite a few years ago, at the time, we were recruiting two or three other players at the same time and those players went to their respective schools and have graduated. It’s now our turn to get that committed class to play together – it’s been a long wait.”

Nick Emery and TJ Haws – both legacy recruits – committed to play for BYU in August of 2011, with Eric Mika committing to the Cougars shortly afterward in December of 2011. Since then, the trio claimed six state championship rings, a national championship, served two year missions in Europe, and were married.

Safe to say, their arrival has been a long time coming.

Emery returned from his mission in Germany in 2015 and faced an uphill battle when he underwent surgery twice to repair circulation issues in his arms as well as a lacerated foot during the offseason. This offseason, Emery remained healthy which has made a world of difference.

“Last season was a struggle for sure,” said Emery. “To be able to not have an injury – have an injury free summer – is awesome. I feel like I could spend more time on the basketball court that has helped me get my individual skills up and helped me get my court awareness up which has helped me become the best player I can become.”

As one of the few returning starters on this years squad, Emery has emerged as a leader, despite being just a Sophomore.

“It’s different this year,” said Emery. “I felt like as a freshman I was so inconcistent and my mind wasn’t in the right place. Now, being a veteran player as a sophomore it’s kind of weird, but it’s also an opportunity for me to get better, to get better at being a leader, to get better at getting guys plays. I think it’s a big adjustment for me even, but this offseason, the positions we’ve been put in have helped me become who I am today.”

Haws trained for his return to basketball with the help of his older brother Tyler who set new expectations for athletic performance following an LDS mission when he averaged 21.7 ppg his Sophomore year.

“I think I was prepared mentally [to come back],” said Haws. “My brother had been through it and he talked me through it a lot. Knowing that I need to take my time and not rush into things. I knew it was going to take a little while, but I was patient with it and took my time and that’s really helped me out a lot. A lot of times your mind tells you different things than your body. Sometimes you want to do more than you can, but I knew I had to be patient and just take my time with it.”

Many have high hopes that Haws will be able to replicate his brother’s success. The elder Haws finished his career as the Cougars’ all-time leading scorer passing legends Danny Ainge and Jimmer Fredette with 2720 career points.

Returning to basketball after taking two years creates physical and mental barriers for athletes with the frustration of realizing that it takes time to return to the level of play they were at before leaving.

Despite not playing together for more than three years, the trio said being on the court together hasn’t lost a step.

“It feels really good,” said Emery. “TJ and Eric have worked their tails off this summer and to have them home is a lot of fun because we haven’t skipped a beat together. The chemistry is the exact same and to be able to play with them again it’s gonna be exciting.”

Eric Mika played his freshman year at BYU before leaving to serve two years in Italy. Arriving home in April, Mika had to put in hours of work before he felt like himself.

“I felt like 100% – if I got home in May – after about three months,” said Mika. “Going into August, right towards the end of our strength and conditioning program over the summer, TJ and I were doing full runs on the scrimmages and in conditioning and weights, we were doing everything that everyone else was doing so it took about three months but then it was back to normal.”

During his freshman campaign, Mika became a presence in the paint for the Cougars and the Cougars will look his way in a loaded front court this upcoming season.

“I think we have been a guard oriented program over the last few years,” said Coach Rose. “I think one place we can make improvement is on our front line. To me, there is no question that we have the deepest, most talented front line that we’ve had since I’ve been here – on paper.”

Other than the LP3, the Cougars have plenty of incoming talent that has created excitement and intrigue including ESPN top 100 players Yoeli Childs, Payton Dastrup, and grad transfer LJ Rose.

LJ Rose created a lot of intrigue this season as a talented pick up who had previous stints with Baylor and Houston before arriving at BYU. Rose was highly recruited out of high school, but has had multiple lower extremity injuries which limited his career.

LJ Rose saw BYU as a prefect fit to finish his college career.

“I wanted to give myself the best opportunity for my last year,” said Rose. “When I came on my visit I loved it and in that moment I told Coach Rose I wanted to come here and I’ve been happy.”

BYU also returns Kyle Davis who started for BYU after transferring from Utah State. Davis averaged 11.9 ppg and 7.5 rpg.

“At this point, I’ve had three years of college basketball experience, plus a red shirt,” said Kyle Davis. “I try to help the guys see the ropes and know what to do and it’s been great. They’ve responded well and if you think of the beginning of the summer to now, everyone has made such improvements and it’s been a great summer that we can build on for next season.”

Another transfer that BYU will add to the line up this season is Elijah Bryant who played his freshman year at Elon University earning CAA Rookie of the Year. Bryant is an athletic guard who can contribute with assists and rebounds. At Elon, he averaged 13 ppg, 4 apg, and 4 rpg.

BYU will begin official practices Monday at the Marriott Center before moving to the Marriott Center Annex for the following two weeks.

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