Big man on campus

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

It’s not too hard to spot Luke Nevill in a crowd. Standing at 7-foot-1, 265 pounds, his stature sets him apart from nearly everyone. But lately, Nevill’s performance on the basketball court has been turning heads as well.

Coaches and players from around the Mountain West Conference are starting to take notice of his dominating post play, double and sometimes triple teaming him to reduce his effectiveness.

But Nevill has persevered through the various schemes, leading the Utes with a team-high 17.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season.

“Nevill is a skilled, confident player who continues to improve,” Colorado State coach Dale Layer said earlier this season. “He’s an NBA prospect and he plays like it every night.”

The center has also drawn quite a bit of attention on the national level recently, as he ranks fifth in the country in field goal percentage (65.3).

Hailing from Perth, Australia, Nevill didn’t exactly reside in Utah’s recruiting territory, but thanks to the recently founded “Aussie connection,” Utah coach Ray Giacoletti caught wind of the talented young recruit.

The director of the Australian Institute of Sports told Giacoletti of a player who was planning on attending the academy, but ended up moving to the United States before he could enroll.

Two years later, Nevill was the star of Kell High School in Marrieta, Ga. Despite averaging 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, the 7-foot-1 project wasn’t highly recruited by other schools. But coach Giacoletti and his staff saw something familiar in the big man.

“We watched him quite a bit in Georgia and liked what we saw,” Giacoletti said. “(Andrew) Bogut coming here has opened a lot of doors for us internationally and it has certainly paid dividends with Nevill.”

Although some may find similarities between the two Australian natives, many fans have been critical of the latter since he stepped foot on campus two-and-a-half years ago.

After sitting out the 2004-2005 season as a redshirt, Nevill stepped into a big role (Bogut’s) in coach Giacoletti’s offense and struggled with the transition. The center finished the season averaging 11.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game despite taking a large chunk of the shots.

This season, Nevill has embraced coach Giacoletti’s offense quite a bit better, scoring jump hooks and dishing kick-outs whenever possible.

“There aren’t five guys in the country like Luke Nevill,” Giacoletti said. “I don’t think it’s any secret who our offense is based around.”

No secret at all. Opposing coaches have known all season what the Utes’ game plan was going to be, but few have had success in shutting the big man down. New Mexico and Northwestern are the only two teams that have held Nevill below 10 points, and he has had fewer than five rebounds four times.

“He is virtually unstoppable around the basket,” Utah guard Ricky Johns said. “Everyone knows he can score, but he can also pass out of double-teams and find open shots for the rest of us.”

Lately, the Aussie has become quite a formidable presence in the Runnin’ Utes’ defense as well, stifling shots and grabbing rebounds at will.

“It’s huge for us to have a guy like Luke inside,” Green said. “He’s such a big, physical presence and lately, he’s changed the way teams play offense against us with his hustle.”

With the Mountain West Conference tournament just around the corner, it won’t be a big surprise who the Utes’ go-to man will be. The question is: Can anybody stop him?

Lennie Mahler

Luke Nevill shoots in the Utah’s Jan. 20 victory over Wyoming. Nevill leads the Utes with 17.1 points per game.