U basketball is finally back on track

It’s always easy to be optimistic before a season starts. Hell, I have been doing it for too long with every team that I like, especially the U football team.

Last year, I swear I thought they would be good, but I was an idiot.

The Raiders suck, the Redskins are probably not going to win the division-but don’t worry, I still believe that Tracy McGrady will win the NBA title…until May, that is.

It’s natural for any sports fan to be optimistic, but justifying the optimism, like fans have done for the U football team, makes it legitimate.

And the same goes for the U basketball team.

After the dream season in 1998, when the team reached the national title game, it seems that the Utes had lost their sense of direction after players like point guard Andre Miller left for the NBA.

There has been a constant decline since that, and two years ago, it just seemed like the team was good enough to get to the tourney, but was never going to really make a push like it had in the past.

Until now.

After Miller left and the team started to move out of being a perennial top 25 team, it seemed there was a dearth of talent for the Utes, and the recruiting just seemed to be getting worse.

I swear, I remember Hanno Mottola leading us into the tournament and was just thinking to myself: What the hell is going on?

There is no reason for this happening after the Utes’ heyday in the mid ’90s-and then we got players like Phil Cullen supposedly being “leaders” of our team.

Let’s be honest-the Utes were going nowhere at that point. The offense slowed, and over the past couple of seasons, the team has relied on players like Britton Johnsen, who decided that being aggressive was as dangerous as the devil himself.

The offense got slower-and last year, scoring just 50 points was not out of the question.

But now-at last-it’s changing, as Rick Majerus is changing the face of the program in terms of the athletic ability of its players.

And by saying changing the face of the program, I am not talking a different style of offense, but just one that may be able to score some points.

With players like Tim Drisdom, Richard Chaney, Bryant Markson, Justin Hawkins and Andrew Bogut leading the youth movement of the Utes, it seems that the team finally has a future ahead of it, at least for the next couple of years.

This season, the Utes will still rely on senior leaders like Tim Frost and Nick Jacobsen, but the roots are changing with a more fluid attack.

Drisdom has already proven he can play, as he was the starter at point guard last season. Plus, the improvement of Markson and Chaney has yet to be seen.

But those two were heavily recruited for a reason-and the freshmen who are coming in this year are very impressive as well.

With the talent Markson and Chaney have, they could very well be all-conference candidates.

Hawkins was labeled as the 44th-best player in the nation by ESPN.com, and one anonymous source told me he is better than Markson and Chaney combined.

He may even see starting time at some point this season.

Bogut adds some much needed help inside and will also probably be starting in the regular season.

But the depth is the key issue for the Utes, and it may hold them back this season.

However, the offense should improve with a more experienced team, with more athletic players like Hawkins, Chaney and Markson in the fold.

The Utes were picked second in the conference in the preseason polls, but could easily finish first with the roster they have.

I am not telling you the team is going to the Final Four this year or even next year.

However, the team finally has the makeup of one that not only has direction, but promise for the next few years.

But, as usual with my luck, the Utes will score 40 points a game, lose in the conference tourney and then lose in the first round of the tournament.

It’s not like I’m ever right.

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