Everyday this month Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has been dropping his signature #WojBombs during NBA free agency keeping us posted on LeBron, Carmelo, and the head-scratching Gordon Hayward max contract offers. It’s Christmas in July for league sources and guys like Woj. All of us get wrapped up in it and anxiously wait for one of those bombs to come through the timeline.
Before Woj was giving us his #WojBombs at Yahoo, he was a college basketball writer for ESPN. In 2003, Woj wrote an interesting article about BYU Basketball and Steve Cleveland’s mission to land more black athletes in Provo. Similar to NBA teams currently trying to land superstars to change their franchise, BYU has always wanted to land athletes with different backgrounds to take the program to levels that have never been reached.
When Steve Cleveland took over in 1997, BYU was arguably the worst team in the country. The Cougars had just come off a dismal 1-25 season where Roger Reid was fired mid-way through the season for his comments on Chris Burgess; and interim coach, Tony Ingle was let go at season’s end because he didn’t win a single game. A change was needed at BYU, and Cleveland was determined to right the ship by bringing in more African-American athletes. Something that was uncommon for BYU hoops. As of 1997, BYU only had 11 African-American players come through the program. That’s 95 years of playing basketball, and only 11 black guys donned the Cougar blue.
Reading this article by Woj made me think back to when Cleveland was first hired by BYU. He was an under-the-radar candidate that no one knew anything about. The only thing that stood out was that he had ties to the junior college ranks as he came from Fresno Community College. With those connections to the JC level, Cleveland instantly started to bring in more African-American players to BYU.
In year one, Cleveland brought in Ron Selleaze, Silester Rivers, Brian Hamilton, and Michael Garrett. Woj’ article discusses those four athletes, but I remember at the time how big of a deal that was when Cleveland signed those guys. Was this little-known Fresno guy actually going to pull off the unthinkable, and bring BYU Basketball back to relevance?
Selleaze and Garrett were the headline guys that were going to change the program. Both guys were best friends who hailed from Fresno and had played for Cleveland at Fresno C.C. Selleaze joined the team mid-way through Cleveland’s first year and instantly became BYU’s best player. Selleaze’ first game was against Cal in the Pete Newell Classic in his hometown of Oakland. Everyone was talking about Cal’s future NBA big man in Sean Marks, but Selleaze came away as the player of the game despite the Cougars falling by four in a loss.
Michael Garrett never played a game at BYU due to grades. Him and Selleaze were both booted for breaking the honor code after Cleveland’s first season. I was able to see Garrett practice twice at the Marriott Center while he was a member of the practice squad in the ’97-98 season and let me tell you, that guy would have been one of the best guards to ever play at BYU. I truly believe that. I remember the smooth handles and shot while he was wearing one of those iconic BYU Athletic Dept. t-shirts with size XXL listed below the iconic royal blue BYU logo. Garrett had endless potential. Both him and Selleaze would have made for a dynamite tandem in Cougar blue. Sadly, it didn’t work out for them and Cleveland.
The setbacks with Selleaze and Garrett didn’t stop Cleveland from recruiting African-American athletes though. He kept recruiting them, and more AA players than ever started to play at BYU. Many of them carved out terrific careers at BYU. All-day Terrell Lyday anyone?
As of today, a total of 22 African-American players have played for BYU. That includes Jamaal Aytes and Jordan Chatman who will be members of the Cougar Cagers this winter. Then there is also 2016 verbal commit, Frank Jackson from Lone Peak High who is considered to be a Top 40 recruit in the entire country by ESPN.com.
You have to think former players like Jeff Chatman, who was one of the 11 african-american players pre-Steve Cleveland era to play for BYU, is watching this era of Cougar hoops and smiling. Chatman even sent out a tweet recently showcasing some of the past, present, and future BYU players who are part of what Chatman called, “The Brotherhood”.
— Jeff Chatman (@jeffchat) July 2, 2014
It’s great to see BYU expanding their reach on the recruiting trail. BYU Football has always had some national cache, but BYU hoops has been more of a regional program that very few realize how successful the program has been for 100 years. With being on ESPN and BYUtv on a nightly basis, BYU Basketball is getting their name out there more than ever and the recruiting pool is reflecting that.
BYU Basketball has seen tremendous growth since being one of the nation’s worst programs when Cleveland took over. A lot of that credit ties in to Cleveland and Dave Rose making a commitment to building ties with African-American players. If BYU ever hopes to have that one shining moment in early April, they need to continue making strong efforts to get more black athletes in the program.