The Deane of hustle

By Tony Pizza

There is an old adage in sports that you can’t teach height. Maybe the same can be said for raw talent. At times, from the looks of the U basketball team, toughness could even be thrown into that category. But if the Runnin’ Utes are looking for a good example of a player to emulate, they need not look any further than their own Daniel Deane.

So the name Daniel Deane doesn’t exactly jump off the page at you. Why should it? He isn’t a lock as a first round draft pick in the NBA draft later this year. He isn’t even a lock to play 20 minutes a game for the U basketball team. He isn’t even among the six most recognizable names on the Ute roster.

But what Deane lacks in name recognition he makes up for in determination and hard-nosed grit that would make any blue-collar fan proud. And he’s part of the reason the Runnin’ Utes still have a shot at making some noise at the Mountain West Conference Tournament this year.

“Daniel (Deane) brings toughness to our team,” said Utah coach Ray Giacoletti. “He’s not afraid to take a charge or put a body on somebody. Those kind of intangibles can’t be taught, it’s just instinct, and he has it.”

Before U star center Luke Nevill went down with a hip pointer injury on Feb. 19, most of Deane’s sparse minutes came as Nevill’s or forward Shaun Green’s backup. His role greatly increased when Nevill suffered that injury, forcing him into the starting lineup against the Wyoming Cowboys later that week. With the Utes in desperate need of a win to keep a physical presence in Nevill’s absence, Deane answered the bell.

In just 24 minutes of action against the Cowboys, the 6-foot-8 freshman from Park City gave the Utes a healthy dose of toughness that the Utes have been sorely missing through most of the season. He also poured in 12 points and claimed four rebounds in Nevill’s stead, but that was just the beginning.

With Nevill playing, but still nursing his hip injury, Deane saw just 19 minutes of action against New Mexico on Feb. 24, but he made every one of those minutes count.

Deane pulled down seven rebounds and had one of Utah’s two blocked shots, to go along with 10 points, in a double-overtime win that all but guaranteed the Utes a seed in next week’s conference tournament.

The thing that box scores don’t reveal are those intangibles Deane brings to the Utes.

The Utes are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent years, and probably not because they lack the talent. It’s not because they lack senior leadership, either. Any Ute fan who has watched the Utes play for any considerable portion of time this season would probably agree that the team has lacked a guy that throws his body around the court the way Deane has the past couple of games.

On any given moment during the Utes’ last three-game stretch, Deane could be seen diving for loose balls, standing his ground with guys two or three inches taller than him in the paint and going after every rebound within a one-mile radius. It makes one shudder at the possibilities if Deane were to suddenly trade bodies with a certain 7-foot Aussie center.

“In certain situations, we’ll put him in for Luke (Nevill) or Shaun (Green) because he’s such a versatile big man,” Giacoletti said. “The great thing is, he isn’t even close to obtaining his potential and he’s starting to understand more and more.”

As the Utes enter their final game of the regular season Saturday and go into the MWC tournament next week, the performances of Nevill, Green, Johnnie Bryant and Ricky Johns will likely headline the Utes’ successes and failures. But it will be the efforts of scrappers like Deane that will likely give the Utes the edge if they are going to find better success than have thus far.

“From start to finish, he has made the biggest improvement of any of our freshmen,” Giacoletti said. “It’s unusual to see that kind of toughness in a freshman.”

The skinny on Deane: Deane is averaging 12.4 minutes while playing in 27 games — four as a starter — out of a possible 28 games for the Utes. Deane was named the Gatorade Utah Player of the Year in 2005-2006, and also Utah’s Mr. Basketball last year by the Deseret Morning News.

Lennie Mahler

Daniel Deane puts up a shot driving in against San Diego State defenders Tuesday night. Deane’s aggressiveness and physical style of play contribute to the Utes both offensively and through rebounds.