By Jeff Call, ’94
BYU coach Steve Cleveland is not satisfied.
Sure, he’s happy that his men’s basketball team earned a 24-9 mark, a share of the regular-season Mountain West Conference (MWC) title, a conference tournament championship, and a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2000–01. But not long after the Cougars fell in the first round of the NCAAs to Cincinnati, Cleveland turned his attention to next season.
Even though BYU loses four senior starters–Mekeli Wesley, ’01, Terrell Lyday, ’02, Trent W. Whiting, ’01, and Nathan H. Cooper, ’02,–the coach is upbeat about the future. While observers anticipate the Cougars taking a step backward in 2001-02, Cleveland doesn’t see it that way.
“Our goals of winning the conference championship and going to the NCAAs will not change next year,” he says. “I’m not trying to put pressure on the young men, but our goals have to stay the same.”
That might sound a little crazy. Then again, who would have thought four years ago–when Cleveland took over a program that had just posted a 1-25 record–that BYUbasketball would be where it is today?
Cleveland knows the standard has been set and there’s more work to do.
“This is a continuing process,” Cleveland says. “It never stops. We’ve created expectations that we continue to feed. We need to keep feeding the monster.”
Meanwhile he is realistic, considering the Cougars will lose 60 percent of their offensive output. “I won’t be naive enough to say we won’t miss a beat,” Cleveland says. “But I expect us to be competitive in the conference come January and February. It won’t happen instantaneously.”
The nonconference schedule will be challenging. The Cougars’ pre-season slate features Pac-10 foes Stanford, Southern Cal, and Arizona State.
BYU‘s most experienced returning players are Eric J. Nielsen, ’02, Matt M. Montague, ’02, Travis M. Hansen, ’03, and Daniel L. Bobik, ’04. Center Derek D. Dawes, ’07, plans to serve an LDS Church mission, but he may play one more season before departing. Guard Michael R. Vranes, ’02, sat out this past campaign due to injury and could be back after undergoing major ankle surgery. His status will be determined late this summer.
Meanwhile the Cougars will add guard Mark A. Bigelow, ’04, point guard Shawn Opunui, ’05, and forward Jared J. Jensen, ’08, to the roster.
“We’ll expect contributions from those three right away,” Cleveland says.
While Opunui and Jensen will be new to Division I basketball, Bigelow, who returns from a mission this summer, led BYU in scoring and rebounding as a freshman in 1998-99.
Jesse L. Pinegar, ’05, and Bart L. Jepsen, ’03, will join the squad after redshirting. Bobik, Hansen, Nielsen, and Bigelow are the most likely candidates to fill the enormous scoring void, Cleveland says.
“We’re always looking to improve our team,” Cleveland added. “We’re preparing for next year and future years.”
For Cleveland, expectations are high.