BYU Men's Basketball Picked to Finish Sixth
Oct. 22, 1999
LAS VEGAS -- The inaugural Mountain West Conference basketball season figuratively tipped off here Thursday with good news for fans of both BYU and Utah.
The Ute men were picked by the collection of coaches and media at the conference meetings to win the league title.
BYU was sixth in both polls, but third-year coach Steve Cleveland is thrilled with his situation coming off 9-21 and 12-16 seasons.
He has set a goal to earn a berth in either the NCAA tournament or NIT.
"There's no question this is a turning point," Cleveland said. "The continuity we have with our first opportunity to have people return is really important.
"The last two years were almost like putting out fires on a daily basis. Now we have more confidence because of the stability in our roster."
One key returnee is center-forward Mekeli Wesley, now a junior, who Cleveland brought to the meetings.
"We had Midnight Madness last weekend and the turnout was excellent," Wesley told media from all eight MWC cities. "The team's really optimistic about the season.
"My first two years were difficult. This year we have four returning starters."
Cleveland said the difference has already been felt.
"In the first three or four days of practice," Cleveland said, "there has been a major difference in intensity and intelligence because of our experience."
Cleveland said sophomore Michael Vranes will move from the point to shooting guard.
"Matt Montague can really run a team," the coach said. "It's been very evident in the time we spent in Europe and in the preseason so far in how few times we turn the ball over and how much easier it is to get into the offense with Matt."
Cleveland said Montague and Todd Christensen will share point guard duties, and that Christensen will play some at shooting guard.
"Nate Cooper, (jaycee transfer) Terrell Lyday and Michael Vranes will be on the wings, and Mekeli and Eric Nielsen will get the most reps in the post.
"Silester Rivers should start playing again this weekend and Bret Jepsen probably will be our fourth post guy. We'll use him as a defender and rebounder.
"We're not very good rebounding right now and we're not very big. That's not a good combination."
If the Cougars can beat that weakness, they might win enough games to play beyond the Mountain West tournament, which will include all eight teams.
For the Utes, it isn't whether they'll reach the NCAAs, but how good they can be.
Ute coach Rick Majerus will rely heavily on forwards Hanno Mottola, chosen by the media as the preseason player of the year, and Alex Jensen to help take the bite out of losing All-Everything point guard Andre Miller to the NBA.
The coaches picked New Mexico's Lamont Long as the preseason MVP, and included Long, Mottola, Jensen, Wyoming center Ugo Udezue and Air Force forward Tyron Wright on their preseason All-MWC team.
The media preseason team was similar, but substituted Rebel guard Mark Dickle for Wright.