Loyal Cougars

Life After Payton: What losing out on Dastrup means for BYU’s future

Kelly Kline-Under Armor; Courtesy of David Dastrup Kelly Kline-Under Armor; Courtesy of David Dastrup

Payton Dastrup committed to Ohio State on Thursday, shocking national observers by spurning the Cougars.

I thought Payton Dastrup was coming to BYU. I was sure of it. To paraphrase Stevie Wonder: Signed, sealed, delivered, he was ours. I even wrote a 1,000-word opus about what his commitment meant to the future of the Cougar program. That’s how certain I was.

I wasn’t the only one. National recruiting analysts were convinced that Dastrup would play out his college ball in a murderer’s row lineup alongside Nick Emery, T.J. Haws and Eric Mika. The experts over at 247Sports even predicted with 100 percent confidence that he would be Provo-bound. Cougar fans were downright giddy with anticipation.

We were all very, very wrong.

After a long and pressure-packed process, the highly touted Mesa, Ariz., prospect ended his recruitment on Thursday by committing to play his college ball at Ohio State. The four-star, 6-foot-9 forward chose the Buckeyes over many prominent programs, including Florida, Kansas, Virginia and UCLA — and, of course, BYU.

And here I am, re-writing that 1,000-word opus while I try to make sense of what just happened.

I knew there was always a chance Dastrup could go somewhere else, but I honestly believed he was in the bag. I obviously wasn’t alone. BYU had his faith, his friends, and a wealth of incoming talent to perfectly complement his skill set. How could he say no to that? How could anyone?

If I had any serious doubts, they stemmed from this (now-prescient) article published by 247Sports last week. Here’s the key quote:

“I’d say BYU is the most comfortable for me,” [Dastrup] added. “Ohio State is probably the best in terms of ratio of getting people into the NBA. Virginia probably has the best conference to play in. Florida probably has the best coaching staff overall.”

Comfortable. Comfortable. Comfortable.

That word can be a blessing and a curse in recruiting. Many players want an environment where they can feel comfortable, where they can feel at ease, where they can feel at home. Growing up in an active LDS home with parents who attended BYU, there’s no doubt that comfort level was always going to be there for Payton in Provo.

But not every kid wants that. Some players see college as a chance to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. They see it as an opportunity to challenge themselves, to set themselves up for the future that they want to achieve. In Dastrup’s case, that desired future involves a career in the NBA — and there’s no doubt that Ohio State has sent far more players to the league than BYU has in recent years. It’s an entirely logical choice.

I don’t know if that’s what ultimately influenced Dastrup’s decision or not. Based on his public comments, I expect it was probably something along those lines. His ultimate goal is to play in the NBA, and while BYU is a comfortable environment for him, Ohio State probably gives him the best chance to get where he wants to go.

At the end of the day, Payton had to make the decision that would be best for him based on the things he valued most in a college experience. He obviously feels Thad Matta’s program gives that to him — and I can’t fault him for that. I wish him nothing but the best as he pursues his dream.

But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t hurt if you’re a BYU fan. It does. It hurts a lot.

Let’s be real here: this is a substantial missed opportunity for the Cougars. I know some folks tend to get a little bitter and defensive after losing out on a recruit (“We never really wanted him anyway! He’s not that good!”), and I hope we can avoid that kind of silliness this time around. There should be no denying that Payton Dastrup is a very good basketball player who would have played a big role for BYU.

How big? Well, let’s see what I wrote in my 1,000-word opus that will now never see the light of day:

Dastrup’s commitment appears to provide coach Dave Rose with the final piece to a recruiting puzzle that’s taken him several years to assemble — one that now includes four ESPN Top 100 recruits and a slew of strong role players. The picture on the box? A deep, talented Cougar team that could legitimately threaten a Final Four run or two during its time together — if not more.

I still believe every word of that is true. Teaming Dastrup with Nick Emery, T.J. Haws and Eric Mika would have given the Cougars a perfectly balanced lineup that could have been an absolute juggernaut. Multiple Final Four runs were very much within the theoretical realm of possibility. It would have probably been the greatest collection of talent to simultaneously don BYU uniforms in the history of the program.

It’s totally reasonable to feel disappointed about such a great opportunity floating away. And now that it has, it’s also reasonable to ask some searching questions: What does Rose do now? What does a Dastrup-less future hold? Where do we go from here?

My answer? We threaten a Final Four run or two — if not more. Still.

Like anyone else, I wish we could’ve had Payton Dastrup in a BYU uniform. It would have been awesome and he would’ve added yet another dimension to the team. He will be missed. But that doesn’t mean the guys who are going to suit up in those blue and white jerseys come 2016 are suddenly the Little Sisters of the Poor. Dave Rose put together the best recruiting class in school history before Dastrup announced his intentions, and nothing that happened in the last 24 hours has changed that.

Fans are fickle creatures. I get that. But since the Dastrup news broke, I’ve seen several folks on Twitter suggest this (coupled with Jabari Parker going to Duke) is an indication that Rose can’t get the best active LDS recruits, that he can’t land the big one, that his recruiting output is somehow unsatisfactory.

And Emery, Haws and Mika are what? Chopped liver?

Let’s not lose track of the larger context here while we justifiably wallow in our moment of grief. Those three players were, like Dastrup, all ESPN Top 100 recruits. (In fact, they were all ranked much higher than Payton, but that’s really neither here nor there.) So Rose has managed to land three top-notch LDS athletes in the span of two years. That may not seem like a lot when juxtaposed to teams like Kentucky or Duke, who seemingly have their pick of the country’s top talent year in and year out, but it’s a huge deal for a school like BYU.

Playing in a mid-major conference and dealing with a unique recruiting environment that many coaches only see in their nightmares, even just one top recruit would be considered a major coup. But three? That’s a testament to Rose’s tireless commitment to pounding the recruiting trail and his work rebuilding BYU into a legitimate basketball program.

Would four big “gets” have been even better than three? Definitely, but we should be careful not to forget the enormity of Rose’s accomplishment while crying over spilled milk. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that this kind of haul was completely inconceivable on its face.

A brief history lesson for those with short memories: In the 1990s, the Cougars often didn’t get the top LDS athletes. None of them. Players like Chris Burgess and Mark Madsen — top recruits in their day — chose to play for traditional power programs like Duke and Stanford, while BYU slipped further and further into mediocrity. If you would have suggested then that BYU could land a single nationally ranked prospect, let alone three, you would have been laughed out of the room. It just didn’t happen.

That’s why, despite losing out on Dastrup, the commitments from Emery, Haws and Mika are still so huge. It’s not just about them as great individual players. It’s about more than that. It’s about all of them choosing to play their ball in Provo. It’s about them spurning many of the nation’s top programs to represent their faith’s flagship institution. And most of all, it’s about what they symbolize in the context of BYU basketball history — the massive sea change that has taken place in the intervening years since Roger Reid was whiffing his way through the ’90s, striking out with every reasonably good LDS athlete, and turning in 1-25 seasons.

It’s impossible to overstate the revolution that has occurred in Cougar hoops since that time. This is a fundamentally different program than it was 15 years ago — and the “Lone Peak Three” are a living, breathing testament to that transformation.

Who deserves the credit for the dramatic turnaround? Steve Cleveland probably gets some for his yeoman-like work pulling BYU out of Reid’s morass. Jimmer Fredette certainly deserves his share for capturing the imagination of millions of people and single-handedly making the Cougars nationally relevant again. But most of all, the credit goes to Dave Rose.

There have been considerable ups and some intermittent downs, but Rose is responsible for constantly pushing, shaping and molding this program into what it is today.

A program that people talk about.

A program that top players want to play for.

A program that, regardless of what transpired this evening, is still poised to take its place among college basketball’s elite in the very near future.

Could things be even better? I suppose, yes. Cougar fans undoubtedly would have loved to have counted Payton Dastrup and Jabari Parker as their own. And while we’re at it, a unicorn and a few extra years of eligibility for Jimmer would have been nice, too.

Look, I’m not trying to say the BYU faithful shouldn’t be disappointed about tonight’s loss. We should be — Payton Dastrup could have done great things in Provo, and now he won’t. It’s an undeniable bummer. But we shouldn’t let our disappointment cloud our vision so much that we can’t see what’s still standing right in front of us: The best coach in school history with the best recruiting class in school history, poised to make some serious noise in the years that lie ahead.

Dastrup or no Dastrup, I think the future looks just fine. In Rose We Trust.

11 Comments

  1. Joey

    November 7, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    I completely agree with what you said. I was stoked to check twitter and see that he had chosen BYU. The first tweet I saw said Ohio st. I was like yeah right. Then as I scrolled a lump in my throat began to form. I felt betrayed. We will be just fine. Sad it didn’t happen.
    Here’s to him changing his mind after his mission!
    Go Cougars!

    • john

      November 7, 2013 at 11:41 pm

      Get Makol Mawien and Dastrup would be an afterthought.

  2. Mark

    November 8, 2013 at 2:21 am

    I was with you until you minimized Roger Reid’s accomplishments. Yeah, he missed out on a few of the big names, but landed a lot also (was Michael Smith a Reid or Anderson recruit? He and Shawn Bradley were higher ranked than any of the current recruits and Ryan Cluff and Ken Roberts were top 100. In fact, that class was just as heralded nationally as our current crop, albeit pre-internet). If memory serves he also had the best winning percentage of any previous BYU coach until his final full season and the longest run of NCAA tourney appearances. I believe he only had a single losing season, his 0-8 start when fired.

    Reid’s biggest downfall was that his style of play was booooring.

    • Steve Pierce

      November 8, 2013 at 8:54 am

      You’re right that I was probably too harsh on Reid, but it can be hard for Cougar fans to focus on the better, earlier years instead of the horrific way it all ended.

      To answer your question, Michael Smith was a Frank Arnold/Ladell Andersen recruit. Shawn Bradley did come to BYU at the beginning of the Reid era, though I wonder how much of his recruitment Reid was responsible for during that transition period. (That’s a genuine question — I honestly don’t know.) Ryan Cuff and Ken Roberts were both good players (although Cuff left BYU after his freshman season), but I can’t find anything to substantiate that they would have been considered Top 100 — or that such extensive rankings even existed back then. The bigger point may be that all of these guys were recruited very early in Reid’s tenure, and that his ability to get top players diminished significantly as time wore on.

      As for his winning, you’re right that he only had one losing season. It just happened to be the last one and it was so awful that it’s permanently seared into our memories. And he did own the record at the time for most consecutive NCAA appearances (4), which has since been surpassed by Dave Rose (6). That success came early in his time at BYU, and then the slump toward mediocrity (and eventually awfulness) continued throughout the later years.

      So yes, maybe Roger Reid deserves a fairer shake than I or other fans give him. He was very good at the beginning, but significantly less good at the end — and the latter ended up costing him his job and, fair or not, his legacy.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Mark

        November 8, 2013 at 9:33 am

        You’re welcome. There were lots of newsletters and services back then that ranked recruits, they were simply harder to find pre-internet. The obvious ones included Street and Smiths (the recruiting fan bible at the time), and there were the Parade and the McDonalds teams in addition to countless other services, many of which have since been purchased by and integrated into Rivals or Scout.

        That best-in-BYU-history recruiting class (arguably better than this/next year’s) I’m pretty sure had 4 guys on Frank Burlison’s Best of the West list: Bradley, Roberts, Cuff and Shane Knight. It had BYU fans dreaming of future final fours just like our current recruits do. We had top ranked players coming in and a coach whom I sometimes heard referred to on national broadcasts in terms of being “one of the best young coaches in the business.”

        I intentionally left Reid’s sons of the list of top recruits for obvious reasons, but they both had top flight offers coming out of high school and were named to top national all-star teams.

        Reid was a master at getting the most out of his players and I’ve always wondered what his record would have been if he had been able to finish out that season. I suspect it would have ended up near .500.

        That said I love where we have ended up. The Cleveland years were almost unbearable for me, not just for the product on court but for what Cleve’s defeatist negative attitude. I LOVE Coach Rose and what he has done and will continue to savor every year we have with him at the helm.

  3. Iain

    November 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

    The sky certainly isn’t falling but since the commitments of the big 3, BYU has missed more than it has made imo. Aytes, Chapman, Loveridge and now Dastrup. BYU has been in all of those recruits final 2-3 but haven’t been able to get them to Provo.

    • Steve Pierce

      November 8, 2013 at 9:14 am

      In my opinion, Dastrup is the only one that BYU should feel they really missed out on — the only active LDS, mission-bound kid.

      Aytes wasn’t a member and had no ties to the school, so he was a long shot once his profile increased.

      Chapman and Loveridge were raised LDS, but neither were particularly active according to those close to them, so the cultural fit probably wasn’t right to begin with.

      Dastrup is the kind of kid BYU usually gets, which is why it was such a surprise to lose him. Try and name the last active LDS, mission-bound player that Rose really went after and then missed out on before Dastrup. I can’t think of one.

      Those are the kids he has (rightfully) focused on getting and he’s done a remarkable job. Yesterday was the first time I can remember him failing.

  4. Chris

    November 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    If the kid really does go on a mission, he may change his mind about where he wants to play basketball after he serves for two years. That is happening in football (Taysom Hill is a good example). It may also happen in basketball. And, in two years, something might change at OSU, similar to what happened at Stanford for THill, that might call for Dastrup to reconsider his choice (coach change, etc.). Other than Madsen at Stanford, not many RMs have made it to star level in Div I at a school other than Utah or BYU. Dastrup may come to see that and may come around. We should be patient.

  5. maikeli

    November 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    I think the lord prepares LDS recruits for BYU but the choices comes down to them which they will be ultimately reponsble for. In the case of T.Hill we know the lord provided him with challenges and I think he knows why he changed so I think he will probably change his mind once he realizes that the lord prepared him to play at the lords university

    • Brett Hein

      November 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Yikes. I can’t get behind that sentiment. At all. Hope I’m missing the sarcasm font there.

    • WTHeck?

      November 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      grapevine?