Former Utah head basketball coach Jim Boylen was fired after a rough stretch for Utah basketball. In his final season with the Utes, Boylen’s team finished just 13-18 in the Mountain West, and he was let go by Athletic Director Chris Hill.
Prior to his dismissal, Boylen was adamant his team would have competed favorably in the Pac-12. With hindsight as our aid, it’s clear Boylen was right.
Many of the players who transferred after Boylen’s firing in 2011 were juniors and would now be graduates. But their transfers forced many of them to sit out for a season, meaning we are just now getting to see the potential team Boylen left behind, and just how well it could have performed in last season’s awful Pac-12.
The glaring departure is Will Clyburn, a small forward who transferred to Iowa State after Boylen left. He averaged 17 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his lone season at Utah, and he’s putting up similar numbers at Iowa State. Although his 3-point shooting has dipped, he’s still averaging 14.4 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Cyclones in the Big 12.
JJ O’Brien, Boylen’s prized freshman recruit in the 2010-2011 season, is maturing at San Diego State. He earned the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week award after averaging 12 points and 6.5 rebounds in wins over Nevada and then-No. 15 New Mexico. This season, O’Brien is 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds and has started in all 20 of the Aztecs’ games.
Another prospering former Ute is Shawn Glover, the lanky forward who is putting up 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for Oral Roberts, a team that beat Utah during Boylen’s tenure.
Add in Chris Kupets, Antonio DiMaria, Preston Guiot and Dominique Lee as well as current players David Foster and Jason Washburn, and Utah would have had a very talented roster in the 2011-2012 season. We also can’t forget point guard Josh Watkins, who stayed at Utah but was dismissed from the team last year by current head coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Detractors would be wise to point out the team with the above players had a terrible 13-18 season under Boylen, but there are plenty of indications they would have improved the following season. These players had little experience with each other in the 2010-2011 season as most were spending their first years together. Not only would they have gelled in the following season, but they also would have been playing against far worse competition in the Pac-12 than what the Mountain West has to offer.
And, of course, we have hindsight on our side. The players who left Utah were good. They are having significant impacts in the Big 12 and Mountain West — conferences far tougher than the Pac-12.
Hill made a good hire in Krystkowiak, but with the way ex-Utah players are performing, it’s fair to ask whether Boylen should have been fired. It was a tumultuous couple years that preceded Boylen’s departure, but it’s clear he had a decent foundation built for at least Utah’s immediate future. Instead of suffering through last season’s debacle and this year’s mediocre team, we could have been watching Boylen’s squads realistically compete for Pac-12 titles.
Krystowiak has Utah basketball going in the right direction, but it is possible that the program is two years behind schedule because it let Boylen go.