When Mark Pope returns to UVU, why BYU is enjoying its success and at the same time feeling the urgency
PROVO – BYU trainer Mark Pope’s past and present collide in a compelling way these days.
When Pope returns to Utah Valley University, where he spent four seasons before taking the helm of the Cougars, he and his team celebrate what has already been accomplished this season.
BYU (6-0) ranks 12th in The Associated Press poll – the first time it was in the top 15 before January in its history.
And it’s the program’s highest rank since Pope became head coach.
When the leaderboard was announced last Monday, how did the Cougars recognize their number 12?
“We celebrated it,” said Pope. “Whenever you do something that is not done all the time, you have the gift of putting it in your pocket.”
Now BYU wants to pocket another victory in the state.
After a 75-64 win in Utah last Saturday, the Cougars will visit UVU on Wednesday (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv) in a competition that will be emotional for Pope and his staff, including assistant coaches Chris Burgess and Cody Fueger, who Pope followed Provo by Orem.
“I love the Utah Valley very much. We fought, bled and sweated there for four years. We are still laughing at the things that happened when we were trying to find our way as employees, ”said Pope. “We had some incredible young men running for us in our four years there.
“It’s a very special place. It’s also a great university and serves this community incredibly well. It filled a space that was badly needed here. I have a lot of love for it and have incredible memories about it. I will always be grateful to Utah Valley. “
UVU (6-1) has won six games in a row, including a road win over a program BYU is very familiar with – West Coast Conference’s Pepperdine.
The Wolverines’ 6-foot-11 center Fardaws Aimaq averages 20.3 points on the team and 13.7 rebounds per game.
It ranks second in the country in the rebound.
“He’s a special talent. He’s a great player. He challenges you in very different ways, ”said Pope. “He’s super patient in the mail, he’s clever, he’s the second in the country to rebound.
“With guys like that, your greatest hope is to take a little with you. We’ll try that. “
While Pope is returning to UVU for a game for the first time since taking office at BYU in 2019, the Wolverines have a few former cougars on their roster, including Connor Harding, Blaze Nield, and Colby Leifson.
Harding, who played for BYU last season before moving to UVU, averaged 11.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
He also shoots 50% from 3 point distance.
“Connor was here in the system and the point guard (Nield),” said BYU guard Te’Jon Lucas, who has played 18 points in a row in the last two games.
“They know what we’re up to and we know their game too. It will be defense and rebound and take care of the ball. That will be the main focus. “
The Cougars should get a good challenge from the UVU, which is exactly why they are planning contests like this one.
“I love these games in the state. I think they’re doing us very well. They test us in amazing ways, ”said Pope. “You love these games because they give you an insight into who you are and how to get better.”
Just as things are going for BYU right now, Pope said this team is far from its potential, but added that it is important for its players to enjoy the milestones they reach.
“This game is unforgiving. … For ourselves, we try to do everything we can to build our boys’ faith in what we do and to motivate our boys in positive ways, ”said Pope. “The last time we were placed in the top 15 in November was 1972. I was 2 months old when we last did this at BYU.
“These guys should celebrate this because it can’t get around. I mean it’s 50 years. That’s crazy. Those who can’t celebrate everything that happens every 50 years are missing out. I don’t want these guys to miss out. … I don’t think it makes our boys soft or selfish. I think it makes them more urgent. That is the hope – that it will become more urgent. “
Players love this approach.
“He loves to talk about history and current statistics,” Warden Spencer Johnson said of Pope. “To be 12th in the country right now and unbeaten and we’ve played against some really, really good teams.
“He keeps talking about us being number 12, but we don’t want that. We still want to take steps forward. It creates an urgency that we can get even better. “
Lucas, a transfer who previously played in Illinois and Milwaukee, added, “We have all come to do more than 12th place and 6-0. We still have to get better every day and we have a lot to do.
“The good thing is, we learn from victories. … Winning takes care of everything. I can’t complain that I’m now 12 and 6-0. I’ve never been rated this highly. I’m excited because we’re winning. “
No. 12 BYU (6-0) at Utah Valley University (6-1)
Wednesday at 7 p.m. MST
Radio: BYU-Radio / 1160 AM