Before he underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer last June, BYU's Dave Rose stewed for days about tough losses, just like most coaches. Now that he's back on the sidelines after learning that his cancer was a rare but treatable form of a usually fatal disease? "I'm still extremely driven, and my desire to win is still the same," says Rose, 52. "But I do believe that when things disappoint you, it's easier to move on."
With a school-record-tying 20--1 start, the Cougars haven't given Rose much opportunity to test his new perspective. After losing at Utah State on Dec. 2, they won 15 straight games and reached No. 12 in the AP poll before losing 76--72 at New Mexico on Jan. 27. BYU's 82--69 win over Utah three days later was the start, says 6'6" senior wing Jonathan Tavernari, of "another winning streak."
The deep and experienced Cougars have every reason to be confident: At week's end they were in the nation's top 10 in six offensive categories, including free throw percentage (77.2%; second), three-point percentage (41.9%; third) and field goal percentage (49.8%; fifth), and also led the Mountain West with 16.5 assists a game. Junior point guard Jimmer Fredette, a multifaceted scorer who averages 21.2 points and 5.0 assists, has been unstoppable at times, getting 36 points against Utah after ringing up 49 points and nine assists in a 99--69 rout at Arizona on Dec. 28.
Fredette developed his wicked crossover and arsenal of scoring moves while growing up in Glens Falls, N.Y., and playing with his brother, T.J., who is seven years older. "I had to learn to play effectively without being big or quick or strong," says Fredette.
Less heralded but no less valuable to BYU is Tavernari, a two-year starter from Brazil who was expected to be a go-to player this year. Exhausted after spending the summer playing for his country's national team, Tavernari struggled early on. After the Utah State loss, he offered to pull himself out of the starting lineup "because I didn't think the chemistry was quite right," Tavernari says. Coming off the bench for the next 17 games, he has averaged 9.2 points and a team-high 4.5 rebounds.
Rose's response to his ordeal—in September he was declared cancer free, though he will undergo a scan every six months—has had an impact on the squad, says Tavernari. "I thought [his experience with cancer] would slow him down. But, boy, was I wrong. I think that's where this team gets its desire to win."
No matter how well Rose might handle losing, no one wants to disappoint him now.
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PINK- SLIPPED Dressed to promote cancer awareness, Fredette (32) and Rose (below) beat the Utes.