BYU introduces Mark Pope as their new men's head basketball coach at a press conference at the BYU Broadcast Building in Provo on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

PROVO — When Shengzhe Li, a 6-foot-10 post player from China, signed with BYU last November, it seemed like a great fit for both Li and the program.

But now that the Cougars have a new head coach, Mark Pope, circumstances have changed. On Thursday, Li asked for, and was granted, a release from BYU from his National Letter of Intent.

Jeff Reinert, Li’s coach at Santa Margarita Catholic High in Southern California, said Pope visited with Li once since Pope was named BYU’s coach.

“It’s not so much a negative, it’s that ‘we don’t know each other; let’s see where this goes,’” Reinert said. “Li asked for his release from his National Letter of Intent to see if there’s other interest out there for him just in case coach Pope found out that maybe that’s not a fit for him. It’s best on both sides to start all over again. BYU’s not starting from zero, obviously.”

Former BYU assistant Quincy Lewis was Li’s main recruiter at BYU but Lewis is no longer with the program.

“I know Li was disappointed when coach Lewis wasn’t selected as the head coach,” Reinert said. “But he didn’t dislike coach Pope. He just didn’t know coach Pope.”

Li released a statement on social media about his decision, thanking BYU for the opportunity to pursue his basketball career, “but because of the coaching changes I have requested and been granted my release I have decided that it’s in my best interest to re-open my recruitment and explore my options. It doesn’t mean I don’t like BYU anymore, but I’m going to see what school will give me the best opportunity to achieve my dreams. Thank you all for your support and respect during this decision.”

Now that Li is eligible to be recruited legally again, Reinert said Pac-12 schools have expressed interest in Li. “It’s amazing how the word gets out fast," he said.

Meanwhile, another BYU recruit from last November’s class, 6-foot-9 forward Bernardo Da Silva, remains on track to join the Cougars this season, according to Wasatch Academy coach David Evans.

Evans expects big things from Da Silva, who is a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

31 comments on this story

“Bernardo can make an immediate impact on the program,” he said. “He’s got a really high skill set. He has a really good knack around the basket. He’s a quick jumper. He needs to keep getting stronger. He’s pretty thin but that will come as he gets older. His body is growing up instead of out. He’s a great team guy. He plays the right way and shares the ball. His best basketball is ahead of him. He’s going to be very good by the time he’s done at BYU.”

The Cougars' roster for the 2019-20 season has experienced some attrition this spring. Both Rylan Bergersen and Jahshire Hardnett have decided to transfer, while leading scorer and rebounder Yoeli Childs has opted to forgo his senior year to turn pro.