Photo by Brady Lesueur
Utah Valley University men’s basketball coach Mark Pope is entering his second season with the program and it already has his fingerprints all over it. After heavy recruiting of transfers prior to his first season with the Wolverines, Coach Pope has a team that is set to run his system the way he wants for the 2016-17 season.
“We’re completely turning a page to a brand new roster and I feel like we have a ton of talent,” said Pope.
After a 2015-16 season that saw three players sit out because of transfer rules, four players miss time with significant injuries and five graduating seniors, the Wolverines return just three players who played significant minutes for Pope. Those returning include Ivory Young, Andrew Bastien and Hayden Schenck. Telly Davenport sustained a shoulder injury in just his fourth game as a Wolverine and missed the remainder of the season.
Zach Nelson returns for the 2016-17 season after he missed all of last season when blood clots were found after surgery for a knee injury. Redshirts Jordan Poydras, Brandon Randolph and Isaac Neilson are eligible and eager to play after a season on the bench for UVU.
“Me, personally, I’m ready to play,” said Randolph. “I took a year off. I got a lot better, mentally, on the basketball court. We’re going to shock a lot of people, I think. I just can’t wait to play.”
Even with the transfer-heavy group from last season, Pope and his staff continue to reel in high-level transfers. Salt Lake Community College transfer Connor Toolson led the Bruins to an NJCAA national title while he earned MVP honors. Guard Kenneth Ogbe is another in-state transfer who comes from the University of Utah. Despite joining UVU as a transfer, Ogbe is eligible this season because he comes on as a graduate transfer.
Other new faces this season include freshmen Jared Stutzman and Finnish forward Joonas Tahvanainen.
UVU opens the season at home Nov. 7 against Western State Colorado. The slate immediately gets tougher as the Wolverines travel to the Pacific Northwest to face defending West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga Nov. 11. Other notable out-of-conference games include in-state games at BYU, Utah, Weber State and hosting Utah State. Conference play begins Jan. 7 at Grand Canyon and concludes at home against Seattle U March 4.
“We’re trying to become something that nobody believes we can be. That’s just the truth,” said Pope. “I don’t think that there’s anybody that believes that we can be as good as we quietly think we can, so that’s what we’re chasing. We’re at Utah Valley University, which doesn’t have a real history in Division I basketball, so it’s easy for people not to recognize us… So when you talk about shocking the world, we have a place set for us to do that.”
The Wolverines played to a 12-18 record overall and 6-8 in conference play last season and have been selected by coaches to finish fourth in the WAC. However, UVU looks to shock the world and make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
I’m a Pacific Northwest guy who loves his Pacific Northwest sports. An amateur movie buff who prefers the disc to digital. Chasing the sports writing dream while I geek out on Assassin’s Creed.