How a late-night impression transformed BYU basketball

Editor’s note: Second in a two-part series on former BYU basketball coach Dave Rose.

During a late-night drive in the middle of Kansas, Steve Cleveland received an impression that turned into a game-changer for BYU basketball.

As the new head coach of the Cougars from Fresno City College, Cleveland inherited a program that was two feet below rock bottom. BYU had just finished the 1996-1997 season with the worst record in school history (1-25) and he needed someone with whom to build it back.

“I had an impression that I should call Dave Rose,” Cleveland said. “I didn’t know him. We had only met a year earlier at a basketball tournament.”

Rose was a successful head coach at Dixie State in St. George. The only connection they shared was Rose’s assistant coach John Wardenburg, who was a friend of Cleveland’s.

“So, it’s probably 10 p.m. and I called Dave and he thought I was trying to get ahold of John. I said, ‘No, I just want to introduce myself to you. I’m in a situation here where I’m trying to put a staff together. I’d like an opportunity to talk to you.’”

Cleveland and Rose met the following day over a long lunch in Salt Lake City and within days, the deal was done. The two former junior college coaches were stepping up together to Division I basketball.

“Both coming from junior college, there is nothing we hadn’t seen. We knew what it would take but neither one of us had any idea how difficult this job would be for the first couple of years,” Cleveland said. “Neither one of us was really prepared for it, but we understood it was something we could do. It just felt right. One thing we both could do is recruit and that is where the commonality was.”

Cleveland’s staff of Rose and Heath Shroyer pulled a roster together and stunned the Western Athletic Conference by upsetting New Mexico and UTEP during the final week of the regular season to qualify for the conference tournament.

Three years later, BYU won the WAC regular-season title and the conference tournament and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. Cleveland won 138 games with Rose at his side.

“We got (the program) to a level where it had been before, and in my gut and my mind as we were finishing, I had the same impression I had years before. Dave was the right guy for the job,” said Cleveland, who left BYU to become head coach at Fresno State in 2005.

Rose took the reins in Provo and won 348 games over the next 14 seasons — No. 2 all time at BYU behind Hall of Fame coach Stan Watts. Rose will join Watts in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies on Sept. 18. It will be the culmination of a career, started by a late-night phone call from somewhere in Kansas.

“I will never forget the impression I had on that drive that night. It was pretty strong,” Cleveland said. “It was a great experience with Dave during the rebuild, but what was most impressive was…

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Read More: How a late-night impression transformed BYU basketball 2023-09-18 03:21:00

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