Caleb Lohner plays guitar.
At first, as anyone familiar with learning a musical instrument will tell you, it can be quite difficult. Developing such a skill takes time and patience, both for the performer and those around them.
For Lohner, guitar isn’t much different from basketball, where the 6-foot-8 BYU sophomore is always looking for consistency to hit the right chords at the right time.
He still needs time and the fans need patience.
Thursday night, during the Cougars’ late demise at Santa Clara, Lohner sat on Mark Pope’s bench, where he spent the final 10:23 minutes of the game.
It was not his evening. He played just 13 minutes, missed all five of his shots, including a trio of wide-open 3-pointers, and had three meager rebounds. BYU’s top defenseman sat back and watched Santa Clara score two layups in the final nine seconds to upset the Cougars 77-76.
Lohner played small on a night when BYU needed him and his 6-8 frame to play big.
That was a far cry from recent performances on the road at No. 4 Gonzaga, where he scored 17 points, or San Francisco, where his pair of late game baskets and a key rebound propelled the Cougars to a 71-69 come-from-behind victory.
Even last week against Portland, he wowed the Marriott Center crowd by scoring the game’s first seven points and bringing the house down with a thunderous second-half dunk. But among those highlights are recent games against Westminster (0 points), Pacific (2), Saint Mary’s (2), San Diego (2) and Santa Clara (0).
Welcome to the life of a sophomore who is asked to play like a senior. He is also a striker who is challenged to play as a centre, and sometimes as a guard. It’s like asking a young guitarist to stop playing “Smoke on the Water” and stand in front of a national audience and play “Stairway to Heaven.”
No one feels the absence of injured big men Richard Harvard and Gavin Baxter more than Lohner. They were supposed to be his role models. Still young himself, he is now surrounded by freshmen Fousseyni Traoré and Atiki Ally Atiki, staring at him – seeking to be led.
This is not a case of a blind man leading a blind man, but rather a case of a young sophomore leading two freshmen who barely speak English.
Nights like Thursdays can seem like too much, even for a kid who looks like Thor or Hercules and wants to play like Larry Bird.
Recently an opposing coach told Blaine Fowler and I in our BYUtv pre-game meetings that their hope was that Lohner would make his first 3-point shot because they knew if he did he would continue to shoot them.
It may sound cruel, but in the competitive nature of basketball, when a player only makes 5 of 37 3-point shots (13.5%), that’s the shot opposing teams want him to take. .
Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek didn’t win 502 games for being an idiot. If you’re wondering why, after the Broncos played 25 seconds of tenacious defense, Lohner ends up with the ball and a shot wide open from the corner – it’s not by mistake.
The advantage for Lohner is that he is still young and these learning moments are essential for his development.
He can shoot. I saw him stay after practice and hit one shot after another. However, in a game, when things speed up, his timing deteriorates, and on some nights nothing happens. It’s a scenario we see playing out all the time when a young player faces high expectations and too much responsibility too soon. .
Zach Wilson’s second season for Kalani Sitake was all over the place. He threw for 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions and fans demanded the saves. But once the game slowed, Wilson turned his junior year of 33 touchdown passes, three interceptions and 10 rushing touchdowns into a preamble to his pro career.
Lohner is not Wilson. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and plays a different sport. But the demands of patience and practice are the same to reach its potential.
Pope is banking on the fact that he will. He must. Lohner will be a big chunk of his front line when the Cougars enter the Big 12 conference in 2023.
Luckily for everyone involved, the “New Kids on the Block” will be grown men by then. It will be a much older group that knows very well what each performer brings to the stage.
In sports and life, what happens often happens and eventually there will be a price to pay for an opposing coach whose strategy is to leave Lohner open for him to shoot.
We saw a glimpse of that last year at Pacific when Lohner made 5 of 6 3-pointers and finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. His return to Stockton, Calif., on Saturday night could be just what the doctor ordered.
When Keith Urban takes the stage at USANA in September, he will do so like one of the greatest guitarists in the world. Years ago in Western Australia, a much younger Urban approached the legendary Glen Campbell for advice on how to play like him.
“Practice!” Campbell said. “Practice. Learn your craft.
The advice holds true for Lohner and anyone trying to master a skill. The payoff is in the performance and the days are coming when Lohner will hit just the right chords at the right time.
Until then, the price he has to pay is practice and the price for Pope and Cougar fans is patience.
Dave McCann is a contributor to Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review”, co-host of “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.