New-look basketball team heading to Greece

When challenged to pronounce a number of different Greek foods on Saturday, senior Noah Hartsock simply said, "It's all Greek to me." Well, everything will indeed be Greek to the Cougar men's basketball team as they travel to Greece from August 15-25, playing five games against professional Greek teams and taking in the sights along the way.

The NCAA allows basketball teams to take a foreign tour once every four years. The Cougars last traveled abroad as a team in 2007 when they visited France.

"I was pretty excited," said Noah Hartsock about first hearing about the team's trip to Greece. "I've never been out to Europe, and we knew they have some good basketball over there, so I think it's just a fun trip for us and a great learning experience."

Non-basketball activities for the trip include various tours and even a scheduled fireside.

Overseas excursions also qualify teams for an additional 10 extra practices, making these trips a valuable way for teams to gel in the offseason.

"I think it's a great time to get in some extra practice," said Coach Rose. "For us this year it's terrific for our coaching staff because we have different assignments with our coaches. We're really looking forward to the five games played over there."

Gone this year is assistant coach Dave Rice, while Mark Pope has joined the staff.

"Mark's doing a great job," said Rose. "He fits perfect with our guys. I think he'll be terrific for our post players and the more we get to know him, I think the better he'll fit in the staff."

Meanwhile, who exactly will be running the team's offense in Rice's place – along with filling in some other coaching roles – has yet be sorted out, thus making the extra experience this summer even more valuable.

It just so happens that this is also a big transition year for Cougar basketball, and not just because the team will be playing its first season in the West Coast Conference.

With record-setting starters Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery having graduated, there are some big shoes to fill.

"I know that we'll miss both those two guys, but we're looking forward to the challenge without them," said Rose.

Add in Kyle Collinsworth having left for a mission and Logan Magnusson also having graduated, and the addition of some new freshmen and some players that redshirted last year, and it's clear that the team has a lot of work to do.

"It's a real exciting time for our new players, players that haven't played with us before, that have an opportunity to go over and kind of get used to how we do things," said Rose.

The newcomers making the trip include freshmen Damarcus Harrison and Josh Sharp. Meanwhile, junior guard Craig Cusick is joining the roster – presumably as a walk-on – after playing on BYU's practice squad last year. Redshirt freshmen Anson Winder and Matt Carlino will also both make the trip, but Carlino is not yet eligible to play after transferring to BYU during last season.

The trip will also be beneficial for the returning experienced players, as they will be asked to do more this season to make up for the loss of the national player of the year and BYU's all-time leading scorer in Fredette, as well as BYU's all-time leader in steals in Emery.

"This trip will give guys an opportunity to play, and to play quality minutes and have an opportunity to kind of go from different roles that they played on last year's team to whatever role they acquire on this year's team," said Rose.

Chris Collinsworth will travel with the team but will not play as he continues to recover from knee surgery during last season (he is reportedly expected to be fine in time for the season). Brandon Davies will not make the trip, as he has not yet been officially reinstated following his suspension last season.

Stepping up

Having already held team practices since August 1 in preparation for Greece, the Cougars are getting a feel for life without the players that have moved on. Well, one can't exactly say they're getting a feel for life without Fredette, seeing as how he's been practicing with the team.

In fact, the current Cougar squad has had the opportunity to face off against additional former Cougars in Lee Cummard, Trent Plaisted, Lamont Morgan and Brock Reichner. Carlino, who will not be eligible to play this season until the end of fall semester, has been playing on the alumni's team. All in all, not a shabby practice squad.

In any event, these practices have helped the Cougars as they look to find a new identity.

"It opened the floor for a lot of us," said Hartsock about practicing without Fredette and Emery on their team. "A lot of players are stepping up – Stephen [Rogers] and Charles [Abouo], they've both been playing really great of late, and Damarcus … really stepped in and he's playing great right now for us. I think it's gonna help our team transition to the kind of team we want to be this year."

Hartsock even joked about trying break Fredette's school record for three-pointers.

Junior Brock Zylstra said that the team's two seniors in Hartsock and Abouo are the players that have been stepping up the most.

"They're great players," said Zylstra. "Maybe they've taken a backseat to Jimmer and Jackson for the last couple years, but now they're ready to take their opportunity to play and show what they have."

Junior Stephen Rogers is another likely candidate to play a big role during the 2011-12 season. At this point last year he had recently transferred from Mesa Community College. With a year of Division I basketball now under his belt (Rogers had previously also spent a year at Arizona State, but did not play), Rogers said he feels like a whole new player now compared to then.

"There's a lot of areas that people need to step up, and I feel like I'm one of those that can do that, so I'm looking forward to it," Rogers said.

He said he is excited to see what he can do this year, and that he learned a lot from Fredette and Emery, stating that they are "just as good as guys off the court as on the court."

As for how the team as a whole plays, Rogers said that not a lot has changed and that they run a lot of the same stuff, although they obviously don't run as many set plays for one player now with Fredette being NBA-bound.

"Offensively it will be different," said Coach Rose, "just because Jimmer was a point guard who really dominated the ball, had the ball in his hand a lot. We'll kind of play a little bit more like we have in the past."

Of course, the team's newer players will be counted on heavily as well.

"I'm really happy for those guys just because they worked extremely hard last year – the guys that redshirted and the guys that have been coming in – from top to bottom," said Abouo. "They're just hard workers and they get better every day. That's definitely gonna help them because they have the right attitude. There's a lot of talented young guys that are definitely going to help us, but they have a good head on their shoulders and they're always willing to learn, and I think that's what's gonna make them successful here."

International experience

While most of the team will be new to playing international basketball, Abouo already has experience playing overseas, most recently in the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.

"There's a lot of good basketball over there," said Abouo. I've had a chance to play over there the last couple years for my country's team. There's a lot of good players, a lot of great coaches and great teams."

Abouo noted that the style of basketball is different overseas, but that playing different types of opponents will help the Cougars.

All in all, playing in Greece will be a unique experience, and likely one that the Cougars won't forget anytime soon.

"It's gonna be an experience for basketball, but also just as people, to get over there and experience a different culture and kind of learn about the world," said Rogers. "A lot of us haven't been out of the country or done anything like it, so we're excited to learn basketball things as well as life experiences."

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