Peel and switch: Meet BYU's 2 assistants with high-level defensive background

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PROVO – Matching the excitement of the collective fan base, Kevin Young came to BYU encouraging an NBA developmental pipeline and a professional life, five-out offense that the former Phoenix Suns' associate head coach promised will delight fans in the Marriott Center.

But for defense, the first-time collegiate head coach turned to two stars on that side of the ball.

Since his whirlwind hire less than two months ago, Young has been busy finishing his time with the Suns, convincing his players to stick with BYU rather than follow former coach Mark Pope to Kentucky (or other places), recruiting, and hiring his staff.

The latter portion is nearly finished, as Young added former Nevada administrator Doug Stewart as his chief of staff and retained Nate Austin as director of basketball operations following the hire of his five assistant coaches.

He's also holding on to head strength and conditioning coach Michael Davie, head athletic trainer Rob Ramos and mental strength coach Craig Manning in support staff roles.

But to manage the defense, Young brought in former Austin Spurs head coach Will Voigt and former NABC defensive player of the year at Providence and four-time European professional top defender John Linehan as the Cougars will try to get stops as much as play through them in Year 2 of the toughest college basketball conference in the country.

Voigt, who spent much of the past two years with San Antonio's G League affiliate in the Texas capitol, has patented the "Peel Switch" defense, where a help defender switches onto a ball handler (or cutter) who has beaten his original defender, and then that original defender "peels off" his mark and rotates to whomever was left open in the transition.

It's a style of defense, also called "go switch" or "fly switch," that was designed with the biggest stars of basketball in mind, Voigt told recently during an interview on ESPN radio in Utah County.

"My thought is that today's game, those offensive players are just too good," he said. "Initially, it was challenging to find kick-outs and to do something with it. Players now are more comfortable and are trained with the trap. ... You're getting put into long rotations. That's the modern game: teams with a bunch of shooting, long rotations, and eventually you can't close out."

It's a fast-paced style of defense that often works out of a press, or at least a press-man rotation, requiring strict attention to detail and fitness of an NBA level. It requires players — and that's where Linehan helps.

"You can throw any kinds of schemes you want, but you have to have great defensive principles and guys who buy into it," said Linehan, who first met Young when he was invited in as a trial coach with the Delaware 87ers. "(Voigt) has one of the most creative systems out there, and I'm sure if you put the principles with things he does into effect, then we'll be a really good defensive team."

The Cougars brought back a significant core of last year's team that finished fifth in the Big 12 and earned a No. 6 at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, with key players like Dallin Hall, Dawson Baker, Richie Saunders, Trevin Knell and Fousseyni Traore.

They also added a number of four-star prospects, including heralded freshmen Elijah Crawford from Brewster Academy and Corner Canyon star Brody Kozlowski, who had previously signed with Stanford and USC, respectively.

Additionally, BYU added four-star transfers Keba Keita (Utah) and Mawot Mag (Rutgers), the latter of which was regarded as one of the best defenders in college basketball by coaches in the Big Ten.

Young's roster also may not be done yet, with two available scholarships and the hunt for a handful of prospects, including ESPN top-50 prospect Kanon Catchings, the four-star nephew of former Tennessee star Tamika Catchings who planned to visit BYU, North Carolina State and Florida State after receiving a release from his scholarship at Purdue.

"Our roster isn't finished with two scholarships left to give," Voigt said. "It probably won't be until closer to the fall that we feel we can fill our (roster)."

But, he added: "We're not going to take somebody for the sake of taking somebody. I think the group we have right now is more than capable of being a great team."

In the meantime, Young, Voigt, Linehan and the rest of the coaching staff have begun summer workouts with most of the players on campus — including recent arrivals Crawford and Baker, the former UC Irvine transfer fresh off his honeymoon.

That means Linehan has been donning defensive pads and guarding players like Hall, Knell and Saunders while imparting the experience of the two-time Big East defensive player of the year and the NCAA's career steals leader until three years ago who earned top defender honors in France (2006, 2010, 2011) and Estonia (2009) before getting into coaching in 2015.

For Linehan, who has heard most of the jokes related to former BYU punter and rugby star Jonny Linehan who (kind of) shares his name, defense starts with more than a schematic advantage.

"It has to be something that they buy into: just wanting to get stops, to make it hard on a team," Linehan said. "Guys don't necessarily have to always get a steal, but they have to make it hard on every shot. We can't have guys getting to the basket easily or give up wide-open 3-point shots. That's the area where we want to focus on: defending the 3-point line, and the rim.

"We've got good size, good quickness," he added. "They just have to buy in to that system."


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