Men’s Hoops Bolstered by Majerus

The basketball season is but a few practices in, but there is already one major positive going on that was vacant from the Utah team last season?the sight of animated coach Rick Majerus.

?It?s nice to be back,? Majerus said. ?It?s funny how things never change, it?s like everything is the same.?

Majerus is content to answer to a list of phone calls, charity events and the daily three hours of practice after an emotionally draining 2000-01.

?I?m so glad I?ve got what I had to do last year behind me,? he said.

Majerus is referring to the unpredictable events that were the 2000-01 season. Majerus coached the Utes in the season-opener against Boise State, but for his own health problems and those of his mother, he spent most of the season in Milwaukee.

Assistant coach Dick Hunsaker stepped in for Majerus during the season and did a good job under the circumstances. Hunsaker took the reins and guided the Utes to a 19-12 record, a share of the Mountain West regular season title and a berth into the NIT. Hunsaker?s leadership earned him the MWC Coach of the Year honor.

But now the Utes have to revert back to the style of five-time conference Coach of the Year Majerus.

?The coaching styles are a little different,? said junior forward Britton Johnsen. ?Coach Majerus is really into details like spacing.?

?[Last season] was totally different because it was two coaches both trying to run the Utah system,? said center Chris Burgess.

But just having the trademark white sweater back on the sideline will reap rewards.

?I play my hardest for anybody, but there?s something about him,? said senior point guard Travis Spivey. ?When Coach Majerus walks out onto the court, I get butterflies. He makes me play better and think more.?

So with the inspirator back, how can the Utes return to the NCAA Tournament-caliber team it was prior to his exit?

?On any Majerus team [the biggest aspect] is defense, and I can see it this year,? said sophomore swingman Nick Jacobson.

It is no secret that defense and rebounding are at the top of the U game. All five starters return to a team that ranked No. 23 in the nation in points allowed (63.1 ppg) last season.

?[My personal goal] is I want to be the Defensive Player of the Year,? Spivey said.

Spivey is one of four seniors who will be looked at for leadership in the early going.

Burgess also wants to be a factor on this year?s team. At 240 pounds, Burgess has dropped weight in order to do more on both sides of the floor.

?I see myself as a great rebounder and as a post presence,” he said. “I want to establish the role as the go-to guy down low.?

?If he stays healthy, he?ll have a real good year,? Majerus said of the center.

While it is still too early for answers, the Utes are just enthused to see Majerus back.

?He?s come with a lot of energy and excitement,? Johnsen said. ?He?s really hard on you, he?s a disciplinarian?sometimes you wonder why you missed him.?

Majerus?s fervor for the job has not dwindled.

?I love to play with guys? minds and use strategies. I have a great job, I look forward to practice every day,? he said.

The public can get its first look at the 2001-02 version of the Utes at fan night Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

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