ANALYSIS/OPINION: I Suspect BYU'S Kevin Young is Likely to Become Its Most Transformative Head Coach Ever. Here's Why.

ANALYSIS/OPINION:  I Suspect BYU'S Kevin Young is Likely to Become Its Most Transformative Head Coach Ever. Here's Why.
Money photo by america-3125467_1920 via Pixabay, downloaded 07 May 2024, with logos courtesy of their respective owners.

In less than two weeks in April 2024, Kevin Young went from being the most likely next head coach in the NBA to being named the new Head Coach of Men's Basketball at Brigham Young University, as its former HC, Mark Pope, bolted the environs of the Marriott Center to rejoin his alma mater, the University of Kentucky, as its new HC.

And yet, with one sentence shared during his introductory press conference, Coach Young transformed the essence of BYU basketball forever, perhaps even every sport played at the "Y."

This one sentence, plus Young's actions since then and what has transpired within BYU's hoops program in the ensuing 7+ weeks, are why I believe BYU will win the BIG-12 conference championship within 23 years and will be a serious contender for an NCAA title within 35 years.

Here's why.

Mark Pope, BYU, and Dominoes

Before Mark Pope signed to become the Head Coach of Men's Basketball at Brigham Young University in April 2019, I am confident he made one thing perfectly clear:

If his "alma mater" ever came calling — the University of Kentucky (that place where Pope had been captain of the Wildcats' 1996 national championship team) — then he was gone, headed for the blue blood environs of Lexington, Kentucky with visions of b-ball glory dancing in his head.

In that regard — that statement — that pre-contract signing pronouncement meant that there was always an undercurrent to Pope's tenure at BYU, regardless of how unlikely it was that a Kentucky team led by John Calipari, one of the winningest Division I coaches of all time, would ever deign to leave the Wildcats.

In other words, Pope's role at BYU was metaphorically like unto a domino with a slight wiggle to it, something never absolutely rock solid on the ground in Provo, Utah.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: For the balance of this story, all teams referred to are Mens Basketball teams unless otherwise noted.]

That being the case, it turns that out the first domino to fall in the world of Division I basketball that led to a dramatic change at BYU actually occurred roughly 1,400 air miles to the west of Provo in Nashville, Tennessee when the University of Arkansas Razorbacks lost 80—66 in the SEC Tournament to the University of South Carolina on 14 March 2024.

For those keeping score, March 14 is also the day that BYU lost to Texas Tech in the BIG-12 Tournament, a loss that locked the "Cougs" in as a 6 Seed in the forthcoming NCAA Tournament and a date with the Dukes of Dusquene University.

Thereafter, several seemingly unrelated dominoes started to fall fairly quickly (during a five-week period to be exact), each leading, eventually, back to Provo and BYU's Basketball Team.

Here's the complete timeline from my perspective:

  • March 14: Arkansas loses to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament;
  • March 14: BYU loses to Texas Tech in the BIG-12 Tournament;
  • March 20: Southern Methodist University loses to Indiana State in the first round of the NIT Tournament;
  • March 21: BYU loses in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Dusquene;
  • March 21: SMU fires its head coach;
  • March 21: Kentucky loses to Oakland University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament;
  • April 1: University of Southern California Head Coach, Andy Enfield, resigns from USC to become the HC at SMU;
  • April 4: USC recruits Eric Musellman to be its HC, stealing Mussellman away from Arkansas;
  • April 10: With a five-year contract beginning at $7 million/year, Arkansas recruits Calipari away from Kentucky to become the Razorbacks' HC;
  • April 12: Kentucky steals Pope away from BYU with a five-year deal worth a reported $27.5 million, (~$5.5 million/year); and
  • April 16: Kevin Young is recruited away from the Phoenix Suns to become BYU's HC, with CBS Sports reporting it's a seven-year deal worth ~$30 million, roughly $4.25 million per year.

And then an entirely new set dominoes began to fall at, or affiliated with, BYU.

Or said perhaps more correctly, those dominoes began to fall into place.

Head Coach Kevin Young and His One Sentence

Shown below is the recording of BYU's full press conference to formally introduce Coach Kevin Young to the media and the Cougar Faithful on April 17 as the new Head Coach of its Mens Basketball team. {NOTE: Footage from the event begins at the 3:42 mark.}

Introductory press conference of Kevin Young, new BYU Head Basketball Coach. Event held on 17 April 2024 and downloaded from YouTube on 31 May 2024.

To be clear, you're welcome to watch the entire press conference should you be interested.

But the part that caught my attention the most, the portion that contains that "One Sentence" referred to above, begins at the 12:39 mark, as that's where Coach Young says,

"What I want to do, to take it (BYU) to the next level, is make this place the best place in college basketball to prepare young men to play in the NBA."

As I've now gone back and listened to this portion of Young's press conference numerous times, it's occurred to me that although the implications of this statement are momentous (at least at a BYU), I believe it was said in an almost off-handed way, as if it is simply matter-of-fact to Coach Young, as in,

"Of course that's my approach. What else am I supposed to focus on?"

So ... why do I place so much importance on this single sentence, a statement made by a first-time NCAA D-I head coach no less, especially one faced with the likely prospect of losing many of his key players to the Transfer Portal with the departure of Mark Pope?

Perhaps a bit of personal context will be helpful.

David Politis: A True Blue, Cougar Fan, Through and Through

I've been a sports fan for as long as I can remember, and in my pre-teen and teenage years, that mostly meant the professional and major university teams of the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew-up.

So that meant the Giants, the 49ers, the Stanford Indians (as they were known back in the day), and yes even the A's, the Raiders, and others.

And then I attended, and eventually graduated from, BYU.

It was that multiyear, educational and cultural journey that brought me to where I am today: a true blue, BYU Cougar fan, through and through.

Case in point, I was a freshman at BYU in '74 when LaVell Edwards took the Cougs to its first bowl game.

I was in San Diego when BYU lost in the first Holiday Bowl to the Naval Academy, and when it finished in an awful 13—13 tie to Iowa in the '91 Holiday Bowl, I was there too.

As a student, I saw Danny Ainge light-up competitors for four straight years in the Marriott Center; I was also at the Huntsman Center on 11 January 2011 when Jimmer torched the Utes for 47 points.

Bottom line, I love almost everything about BYU, and I root for its teams and athletes against anyone and everyone.

That said, I'm also a realist, as I recognize that unlike almost every other Division I university, it's clear to me that BYU's Board of Trustees has historically had a different perspective and purpose in mind when it comes to everything related to higher education, including intercollegiate athletics.

Not that it matters, per se, but I'm okay with (and support) their approach.

Case in point, BYU will not compete in any athletic contest on Sunday, the Lord's Day, and that has definitely presented some challenges over the years for the Cougs.

I'm also fine with this.

Similarly, because its primary source of financial backing is drawn from the "Tithes & Offerings" donated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU has historically paid its employees less than what is typically available to others at comparably sized institutions of higher learning, including coaches and athletic professionals.

And I'm fine with this as well.

That said, at the same time, I want to see BYU's teams and athletes excel, set records, and ideally win championships — conference and national.

Additionally, however, I also want to see former BYU athletes compete and win in professional sports.

And, with few exceptions, this (I feel), has been a undertaking where BYU has underperformed. And here's why.

Year after year, as pre-season approaches (especially for the "Big Two" money-maker sports in collegiate athletics football and men's basketball, BYU included), I swear I hear the same team goals stated every year:

  • Win the Conference Championship;
  • Go to, and win, our Bowl Game (for football), or
  • Go to, and win games in, March Madness (for basketball); and
  • Win the National Championship.
BYU Mens Basketball Head Coach, Kevin Young, at his introductory press conference 17 April 2024. Photo downloaded from the BYU website 05 June 2024.

And to be honest, all of the above is fine. But let's be serious for a second:

If the actual purpose of a secondary education is to prepare students for their life after college/university, then odds be damned, shouldn't athletic departments, coaches, and staff members be doing everything possible to get as many of their players into professional sports?!?!?!

And if that's the case, why oh why haven't I ever heard a current or former coach at BYU make that statement in 50+ years of personal BYU fandom?

At least not until Head Coach Kevin Young?

Why that One Sentence Matters

On playgrounds, blacktops, dirt fields, gymnasiums, and courts of all types around the world, preteens and teenagers of all shapes, sizes, and abilities practice and play in their chosen sports with visions of glory and big paydays dancing in their heads, dreams they are sure await them as future professional athletes.

Forget the fact that a fraction of one percent will ever sniff a professional payday, (even though the reality of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) in today's sports ecosystem in the United States is providing some pre-professional paydays to some athletes).

The reality is that for most athletic competitors, their playing days typically end when they graduate high school or leave the collegiate realm.

But ... and it's a big but ... but there are some who are gifted enough — physically, mentally, and emotionally — to be able to play at the next level.

This to me is simply a matter of fact.

And from my perspective, therein lies what I believe is the crux of the conundrum for Brigham Young University when it comes to intercollegiate athletics:

How do you consistently recruit, retain, and grow worldclass athletes at an academically and societally rigorous institution like BYU, one with its often praised, misunderstood, and (unfortunately) sometimes belittled Honor Code?

Personally, I believe the way that BYU can achieve such a goal — consistently recruiting, retaining, and growing worldclass athletes — is to change the paradigm of what the purpose of collegiate athletics is all about at "The Y."

Sure, the purpose of intercollegiate athletics at BYU is to bring positive visibility to the sponsoring institution of the university, specifically the LDS Church. But, obviously, the purpose is to also

  • Win as many games/contests as possible;
  • Set as many new team and personal records as possible;
  • Compete for and win conference championships;
  • Play, and win, in post-season contests, like bowl games and NCAA tournaments; and, of course, to
  • Win national championships.

Each of these are laudable and supportable goals / objectives.

That said, what happens if, instead, you as the Head Coach proclaim that, of course, you intend to pursue everything outlined above; however, your primary goal is to get your players paid? To get them prepped for and recruited into a professional sports scenario?

What happens to the perspectives of the prospective players, their parents, and their friends, if they all know that the head coach at a given school has said (in essence),

"Yes, you will get a worldclass education at our school. And we will press forward to win as many games as possible. And we will shoot to win conference championships, and post-season contests, and national championships. But let's be clear, my goal is to get you into 'The Association,' 'The League,' 'The Show' ... to get you paid."

How do you think those players, their parents, their family members, and their crew will react to such an approach?

My guess? They will go bonkers!

And that, my friend, is what I believe is what BYU has just begun to see in the 7+ weeks since Coach Kevin Young said,

"What I want to do, to take it (BYU) to the next level, is make this place the best place in college basketball to prepare young men to play in the NBA."

So What's Happened at/for BYU Since 17 April 2024?

Before answering the question shown in the headline above, you should be completely clear that the praise for Kevin Young from current and past NBA players, coaches, administrators, even those journalists who cover "The Association" has been almost universally positive.

And this includes positivity regarding Coach Young's knowledge of the game, his ability to identify hidden talent, his capability to train-up players to help them get the best from their abilities, and simply, the fact that he's actually a decent human being.

Additionally, most were surprised that he was leaving the NBA to go to BYU, a place where he had not played or coached.

Then again, most also felt BYU had won the lottery with Coach Young's hiring.

Image copied from the @BYUMBB Twitter account on 18 April 2024.

So, with that as pretext, what has happened since the introductory press conference the night of April 17th? Actually, a lot.

Here's my rundown, not necessarily in chronological order, but relatively close to it of what I see as the positive events that have transpired within the BYU Basketball ecosystem since Coach Young's hiring:

  • 18 April 2024: 6'5" starting guard, Trevin Knell, announced via (formerly Twitter) that he is returning to play at BYU (last season, Knell averaged 10.6 points per game on 45.3% field goal shooting)
  • 23 April 2024: BYU names Brandon Dunson as an Assistant Coach (Dunson joins BYU from Stanford and he was named in 2019 as 1 of the top 30 coaches under the age of 30 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches)
  • 25 April 2024: 6'5" guard, Richie Saunders, announced via (formerly Twitter) that he is returning to play at BYU (as an off-the-bench player, Saunders averaged 20.7 minutes and scored 9.6 points per game, with a 52.3% field goal shooting average)
  • 26 April 2024: ESPN 100 recruit, Brody Kozlowski, signs with BYU from Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Utah (Kozlowski is the two-time Utah 6A Player of the Year and averaged 20.4 points and 8.6 rebounds as a senior)
  • 26 April 2024: BYU starting guard, 6'4" Dallin Hall, announced via (formerly Twitter) that he is returning to play at BYU (Hall averaged 29.3 minutes and scored 9.0 points and 5.1 assists per game, with a 42.2% field goal shooting average)
  • 01 May 2024: BYU names Chris Burgess as its second Assistant Coach (Burgess was previously an Assistant Coach at BYU from 2019—2022)
  • 02 May 2024: Doug Stewart was named as Men's Basketball Chief of Staff by BYU (Stewart has over 15 years in the collegiate ranks as a coach and administrator)
  • 08 May 2024: BYU signs former University of Utah 6'8" center Keba Keita via the Transfer Portal (the Mali native appeared in 35 games for the Utes last season, averaging 8.3 points per game, shooting 61.0 percent from the floor, and pulling down a team-high 73 offensive boards)
  • 21 May 2024: ESPN 100 recruit, 6'2" point guard Elijah Crawford, signs a Letter of Intent to play for BYU in the 2024—25 season (Crawford averaged 12.0 points, 4.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game last season, while shooting 40.0% from three)
  • 28 May 2024: According to Draft Express on (formerly Twitter), 6'9" shooting guard, Egor Demin, has agreed to play for BYU for the 2024—25 season (18-year-old Demin has been playing in the EuroLeague and is expected to be 1 of the top 14 players in the NBA draft next year)
  • 03 June 2024: Will Voigt joins BYU as an Assistant Coach (he's been coaching professionally for over 20 years, including seven years coaching internationally in Europe, Africa, and Asia)
  • 03 June 2024: BYU signs small forward Mawot Mag as a Transfer Portal player from Rutgers (NOTE: Mag played high school ball at Prolific Prep in California, the school where AJ Dybansta, the consensus No. 1 2025 NCAA player, played last season ... just saying)
  • 03 June 2024: AJ Dybansta, the consensus No. 1 boys basketball player in America, makes an unofficial visit to BYU

According to KSL Sports, "Dybantsa noted that the NBA was the topic of around 95% of the conversations he had with (Coach) Young and the BYU basketball staff during his visit."

Dybansta also said during his interview with KSL Sports that,

“He (Coach Young) knows my goal is the league. And he’s been working with league guys for however long he has been. So that was his motto: he can get me there since he knows what it takes.”

Continuing on, timeline-wise ...

  • 04 June 2024: Tim Fanning is named as BYU's fourth Assistant Coach (Fanning has coaching experience in the NBA G-League, Euroleague, Middle East, and Asia-Pacific)
  • 05 June 2024: John Linehan is named as BYU's fifth Assistant Coach (a defensive star in college and professional leagues, Linehan held the NCAA career steals record for 19 years, from 2002-2021)

Last of all, let me close with this relatively short audio clip found on (formerly Twitter) featuring NBA Insider for ESPN, Adrian Wojnarowski, on what he believes Kevin Young's prospects are at BYU, in the BIG-12, and in the NCAA.

Stir it All Together and What do you Get? A Nationally Competitive Program and More Alums Playing in "The Association."

Look, I get that it is WAY TOO EARLY to begin predicting what BYU's Mens Basketball prospects will be with Kevin Young at the helm.

Nevertheless, any player worth a lick believes that he is good enough to make it to the NBA.

And Coach Young has made his top goal very clear:

Get his players to the pros, specifically the National Basketball Association.

Last year, although unceremoniously drubbed out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round by the Dusquene Dukes, BYU nevertheless finished with a surprising 23—11 overall record last season, with a No. 5 finish in the BIG-12 with a conference record of 10—8 (something pretty astounding given that they were pegged pre-season to finish 13th in the 14-team BIG-12).

So how will the Cougs do this coming season? Clearly, I really have no idea whatsoever.

That said, given the fact that BYU has landed two ESPN 100 recruits, plus the hard commit of Russia's Egor Demin (a projected Top 14 recruit for the 2025—26 season), and I have a sneaking suspicion that BYU might be quite good next year.

Perhaps even good enough to contend for the conference championship ... in Year One of Coach Young's reign as HC.

More importantly, however, the Cougs are likely to land at least one player in the NBA via the 2025 draft.

And that, that IS the goal.

At least it is now that Kevin Young is in charge.


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