Two years ago, BYU was supposed to play in a tournament in the Bahamas, the Junkanoo Jam, but it was canceled due to COVID-19.
Now the Cougars have traveled to Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
“These tournaments are always great. Everyone right now is trying to get mileage under their belts and trying to learn their team and understand how guys function together in different situations. — BYU head coach Mark Pope
BYU (3-1) faces USC (3-1) Wednesday (3 p.m. MST, ESPN2) at Imperial Arena.
For a young team like the Cougars, this is a chance to gain experience on a big stage against top opponents at a prestigious multi-team event in an exotic venue.
The other programs in the eight-team field are No. 3 Kansas (the defending national champions), North Carolina State, Dayton, Wisconsin, No. 22 Tennesse and Butler.
BYU-USC winner faces Tennessee-Butler winner on Thanksgiving Day. The loser of the first game also places on Thursday.
All of these teams will play three games on three consecutive days. Battle 4 Atlantis concludes on Friday.
“These tournaments are always great. Everyone right now is trying to get mileage under their belts and trying to learn their team and understand how guys function together in different situations and look different,” head coach Mark Pope said. all this data and all this gameplay film in three days is fantastic. It’s one of the best things about MTEs. This is the best event there is.”
Participating teams receive $2 million to play in this tournament.
For guard Rudi Williams, playing in a tournament like this is one of the reasons he moved to BYU.
“It kind of gives you an opportunity to elevate yourself and be seen by the right people,” she said. “So when they were recruiting me, I knew what I was getting into by coming here. I knew the program. This also intrigued me because I want to play against the best and be in the right place where all the best players are.”
How will Pope measure his team’s success this week?
“The politically correct, and true, way to answer that question is, we’re so excited to be here to learn more about who we are,” she said. “Right now we will have an incredible opportunity to play some of the most elite programs in all of college basketball and give us a sense of where we are and how we need to improve.
“The answer from our hearts is that we would like to come and win every match. That’s why we’re here. We would like to win these matches. We’re going to have to sound really, really, really good to do that. The only game that matters, of course, is tomorrow’s game against USC. This is our hope and ambition: to try and win that match tomorrow.”
Coincidentally, since BYU was unable to play the Bahamas two years ago, they ended up playing the Romans Legends Classic at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
In their first game, the Cougars lost to USC 79-53.
The Trojans’ length proved too much for BYU as brothers Evan and Isaiah Mobley dominated. Evan, a 7-footer now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, had 17 points and 11 rebounds while Isaiah, a 6-11 forward, finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Guard Drew Peterson scored a season-high 19 points. Peterson is still on the Trojan roster, averaging 15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8 assists per game.
“We faced them a couple of years ago and trained. He was really challenging for us. They were so long back then. But they were so ridiculously long,” Pope recalled. “They were new too. They had young people in their team, young stars, just like now.
“This team isn’t that long and could have a more veteran presence in Drew Peterson in terms of having been on the program for quite a while and having a lot of success. But they are good. They have some young talent who haven’t had a chance to break into the national scene yet. They will be a really good team. They are super talented and will become a handful.
USC Grade No. 4 nationally in blocked shots, with 7.3 per game.
Certainly, the Imperial Arena is a unique place. It is located in a ballroom between the beach and the Coral Towers at the Atlantis resort. While the field is flooded with light, the stands are kept dark during the game. But some blue lights create a bluish tint around the playing surface. The lighting setup could cause depth perception issues for shooters.
“I like the gym. It has lighting (Madison Square Garden),” Pope said. “I really like it when there’s really focused light on the court and you lose everything else in the background because it’s a dark environment behind the hoop. It’s a bit of a new feeling for our guys and I’m sure it will be for many of the guys that come into this gym. It’s a really nice place.”
Williams said he was “super excited” to be in the Bahamas and that his team is ready for this three-game, three-day challenge.
“We feel we have grown in four short games. Every game, the coach always says that he sees us growing in certain departments,” he said. “It makes me super excited as a player to know that everyone thinks we are a young team but we are growing fast. This is a great moment for us.
In Thanksgiving week, Pope is thankful for this challenge for his team.
“It’s going to be a fun, circle-filled Thanksgiving,” she said. “We are very grateful for this opportunity.”
Fight 4 Atlantis on air
vs. USC (3-1)
Wednesday, 3pm MST
Imperial Arena on Paradise Island, The Bahamas
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM