PROVO, Utah (AP) BYU coach Dave Rose has been waiting for this moment for four years.
The program struck recruiting gold when it landed the major pieces from the 2012-13 Lone Peak High School national championship team - four-star recruits Nick Emery, Eric Mika and T.J. Haws. But then the challenges of recruiting to BYU kicked in and all three went on Mormon church missions at different times.
That left Rose waiting for this season, hoping none of them changed their minds and trying to recruit other elite players who knew the Lone Peak trio would be returning. The crew is finally in Provo together, starting for the Cougars and facing high expectations after years of anticipation.
''Our patience has paid off,'' Rose said. ''Sometimes you wonder if you made the right decisions in your recruiting process, but I'm glad we got all three of these guys. That's the whole process at BYU. You worry about it until you get them here.''
Lone Peak, which is 30 minutes from the BYU campus, has won eight state titles since 2001 and won a national title in 2012-13 with Emery, Mika and Haws. The three also played AAU together and traveled the country.
Emery and Haws had been playing together well before high school and the two guards committed on the same day when Emery was a junior and Haws a sophomore. Haws' older brother Tyler is BYU's career leading scorer and Emery's older brother, Jackson, is the Cougars' all-time steals leader. Mika transferred into Lone Peak and the power forward committed later.
''It was definitely a process for sure,'' Emery said. ''We had our dreams and aspirations of where we wanted to play, but ultimately we just wanted to play with each other. And find a good school that fits within what we do offensively.''
The plan may have been laid out years ago, but all parties had to be patient.
Mika was a senior on the national championship team, then averaged 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds as a BYU freshman in 2013-14. He served a two-year mission in Spain after his freshman season and returned in late April. Mika now leads the team in scoring and rebounding.
Emery served his mission in Germany straight out of high school and was All-West Coast Conference second team as a freshman last year after averaging 16.3 points per game and setting several BYU freshman records. He won three state titles in high school.
Haws won four titles at Lone Peak then immediately served his mission in France. He is averaging 12.5 points as a freshman, BYU's third-leading scorer behind Mika (20.5 points) and Emery (16.0).
The three are the headliners, but Rose also hired their high school coach Quincy Lewis as an assistant last year. BYU freshman Zach Frampton was also on those Lone Peak teams, and was a senior in 2013-14 before serving a mission in Chile.
''This is an opportunity, for me, that I never really planned on,'' Lewis said. ''It is neat to see those guys again and guys I never thought I'd really coach again. You reminisce because you're like old friends.''
The anticipation of having this group together wasn't just a feel-good story of high school buddies playing together. There are high expectations to win big after missing the NCAA Tournament last season. This season is off to a roller coaster start, with BYU winning four straight at the beginning then losing three of four, including an upset loss to Utah Valley. The Cougars are now 9-4.
''There's an excitement around this team from the outside, definitely, but also from within with this group of guys,'' Mika said. ''There's an excitement, an atmosphere and culture that we're creating that I don't think there's ever been. ... It's more exciting than just any regular season because we've been waiting for it for a long time.
''With all the quote-unquote pressure there is to perform well this year, if we can just stay within ourselves and not worry about the outside and worry about performing to the level that people think we should, and put that pressure on ourselves. ... It's definitely there and we can't just completely ignore it, but if we just play hard and play like we practice, then we'll be all right.''
The Cougars roster is stocked overall with newcomers, with Kyle Davis and L.J. Rose the lone seniors. Transfer Elijah Bryant was the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year in 2014-15 and Rose transferred in after stops at Baylor and Houston. Since the Lone Peak trio has played extensively with each other, the hope is that it will expedite the growth of the entire team.
''In high school, Nick and I were complements of each other,'' Haws said. ''I felt like we really made each other better, as well as Eric. Right when we got back together, it was kind of like, `OK, it's here. Let's do this thing.'''
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