Inside Darnell’s Head: Time for a heart-to-heart between Sitake, his staff and his players

October 23, 2017 GMT

Here’s what’s going on inside Darnell’s head as I realize my name was never on a coffee mug, keychain or nameplate in any souvenir store I ever visited. Believe me, I looked.


During ACC Media Days in August, former BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he films the Virginia sideline during games to monitor his players’ and coaches’ reactions to make sure they are authentic, genuine and supportive of what was happening with the team.

It was that attention to detail that allows Mendenhall to get the absolute maximum out of the talent he recruited. He may have missed on some recruits that wanted a different experience than Mendenhall was offering, but the guys who came to Provo? He could reach those players’ hearts.

That’s the challenge right now for Kalani Sitake and his staff. I don’t think effort is the problem, or even athleticism. The biggest problem is the execution of the game plan. There are too many mistakes and not enough efficiency. Best effort is more than just trying hard.

When teams have struggles that run this deep, there is a general lack of belief from the players that they can get it done.

As the injuries, losses and off-field incidents increase, belief in the system, the culture and the game plan becomes harder and harder for players. That’s why Gary Crowton lost the BYU job in his fourth season. The losses didn’t help, but the players had simply stopped responding to Crowton and his staff.

I hope that Sitake and his crew can turn this group around. It could still happen. A few wins at the end of the season would do wonders to create a little offseason momentum in preparation for 2018 and recruiting.

But it’s got to start soon.

BYU’s next opponent is San Jose State, just 1-6 through seven games. The Spartans, who had a bye this weekend, are 127th of 128 teams in run defense.

Is there crying in cross-country? Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I couldn’t help but get kind of emotional covering the state cross-country meet last week.

The meet was held, like always, at Sugar House Park and Highland High School in Salt Lake City. Wednesday was a particularly hot day — for mid-October, anyway — and some of the runners nearly collapsed when they crossed the finish line.

The meet staff, comprised of students as well as adults, was always there to immediately grab the athletes and help them recover.

Later, when a straggling runner would come in far off the pace, those same students and adults would cheer on that runner as they made it to the end.

Yeah, it made me a bit misty. What of it?

On the hardwood

I’m looking forward to seeing the BYU men’s basketball team participate in the Blue and White Game on Wednesday (RIP Boomshakalaka). It’s our first chance to see the Cougars after they have spent the past two weeks practicing in earnest with Dave Rose and his staff. We’ll get to witness firsthand the commitment to better defense and half-court offense.

I know the emphasis will be on the 3-point shooters, guys like T.J. Haws, Nick Emery, Elijah Bryant and Zac Seljaas. But keep your eye on the bigs, fellas such as Yoeli Childs — an absolute beast — along with Peyton Dastrup, Luke Worthington and Dalton Nixon. How they fit into the system will be key. While you’re at it, pay attention to newcomers Rylan Bergersen, Kajon Brown and Jahshire Hardnett.

OK, just watch everybody.

Road trip

The Cougars added another exhibition game to their schedule with a Nov. 25 date at New Mexico. The proceeds of the game will be donated to relief efforts for hurricane victims. Many other college programs around the country are doing the same thing.

An added bonus to this trend is Division I teams playing each other in exhibition games, instead of lining up Ohio Wesleyan Teachers State College for the Lame or some other lower division team to beat up on. Better basketball makes for a better fan experience. Keep this up.

The fine print

Darn it. I forgot to check all the rules for the fantasy basketball league I joined. Seems I need to set a lineup every day, not just at the beginning of the week.

I’m getting beat like I stole something.

Go-to hitter

Saturday was quite an impressive afternoon for BYU junior outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry, who turned in a career best 34 kills as the Cougars rallied on the road from an 0-2 deficit to beat Loyola Marymount 3-2. The 34 kills were the most for any BYU player in the rally-scoring era, which began in 2001.

Jones-Perry’s growth as an offensive force has been incredible. She’s put in a tremendous amount of work — both in season and out of season — to become the obvious frontrunner for West Coast Conference Player of the Year.

The Cougars, ranked No. 8 last week, will play San Diego in a big WCC match on Friday. The Smith Fieldhouse will be on fire that night, so don’t miss it.

Finally, remember that a lot of people cry when they cut onions. The trick is not to form an emotional bond.

That’s it, have a terrific week.