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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Boylen brings old-school attitude back to Runnin’ Utes

If Jim Boylen were a home builder, he wouldn’t be working for Parade of Homes, or with Bob Villa, or even Tim Allen on “Home Improvement.” He’d be on the crew of “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” where they basically work around the clock to tear down and rebuild a house in a week.

It might take a little more than a week for the fruits of the new U men’s basketball head coach’s remodeling job to come forth, but make no mistake — the in-house modifications are intense, and they are underway.

“I’m thankful for the guys I have and I’m thankful for the progress we’ve made,” Boylen said. “We have a ways to go, but we’re taking some baby steps to becoming a Ute basketball team that everyone can be proud of.”

The young crop of talent Boylen inherited earlier this year is also one trip around the sun older. Ricky Johns is the only member of last year’s team who graduated. Daniel Deane was released from his scholarship and Misha Radojevic transferred to Hawaii Pacific. Other than that, the Utes are essentially the same.

But Boylen isn’t depending on a year’s experience to help the Utes improve upon their 11-19 record. He’s making sure the improvement comes by way practice, and more importantly a change in team philosophy.

“Everybody knows about last year,” Boylen said. “We’re going to put last year behind us and we’re going to try to grow as a group. We have a few goals going into camp…that is to become a team, to become tougher, to trust each other more and to take more ownership of not how we play individually, but how we play as a team.”

The players are having no problem buying into that philosophy. Most of last year’s players admitted they welcomed the much-needed kick in the pants.

“I think all it does is motivate you,” junior forward Shaun Green said. “I think it’s great that he calls people out and is straight forward and honest with everybody. All it’s going to do is make everybody better.”

Boylen’s remodeling project started with things that have nothing to do with basketball. Grade improvements, practice habits and clean-shaven faces were just some of the requirements of Boylen’s “outward reflection of an inner commitment” policy. Boylen also changed the entire look of his team’s uniform, which is perhaps the most noticeable evidence of the “back to the basics” mantra Boylen brought to Salt Lake City.

“I didn’t like the uniform,” Boylen said. “I didn’t think it was what the University of Utah was all about. You wanna be proud of your uniform. You wanna be clean and you want to be connected. I don’t think we connected with anyone…I don’t think it was representing the traditions that have been here. We changed it.”

In the ultimate tip-of-the-cap to how important Boylen feels the fans — particularly the MUSS — are to his newly acquired basketball program, Boylen has the words, “U, Us, MUSS” stitched into the outseam of the home trunks of his players’ uniforms. The away trunks will feature the word “MUSS.” Boylen also got rid of the “secondary” color (black) in the uniforms in favor of a more basic look.

But before the non-basketball changes meant anything, the Utes had to help themselves. Since Boylen’s arrival, that’s exactly what’s been happening.

“It’s not secret we had to change the culture to become more of a defensive-minded and tougher group,” Boylen said. “We are making those changes and going in that direction.”

The Utes started putting their revamped defensive mentality before they set off on their extended summer trip Down Under. Once there, the Utes tore through Australia against some of the best pro teams the country has to offer. The torrid pace of the trip was the first step in teaching the Utes not only what their coach expects, but what it is going to take to succeed when the regular season rolls around.

“Australia was great for us,” Boylen said. “It laid the foundation. Now we gotta start building a solid house.”

Coach Boylen and his players point to practice as the place where the true program turnaround will take place.

Much like the mentality Urban Meyer brought as the Utes’ head football coach in 2003, Boylen is working his players so hard in practice that once game time rolls around, not only will the Utes be ready, but they’ll welcome the calmer environment.

“I don’t think they’ve been held accountable or been exposed to how you have to practice to be a winner,” Boylen said. “My goal is to have them understand that we’ve got to work harder than they’re used to. My job is to push them to places they can’t go themselves, and that’s what practices are all about.”

The Utes are also welcoming some additions that could prove to be key for Utah in 2007-2008.

Tyler Kepkay, the high-scoring transfer out of College of Eastern Utah, will not only help bolster the Utes’ scoring, but provide better ball control to reverse the turnover woes that helped the Utes to their worst record in 23 years.

Morgan Grimm, the Utah 5-A MVP last season, could also be a huge boost for the Utes this season. Carlon Brown, a 6-foot-4 swingman out of Riverside, Calif., also adds depth to the Utes.

But more than anything Boylen is looking for guys such as Luke Nevill, Shaun Green, Johnnie Bryant and Lawrence Borha to step up their games, and for one of them to emerge as a team leader.

“We need some leadership,” Boylen said. “We need a guy to step up and lead this team. Player-coached teams are the teams that win. If I gotta do all the leading, we’re not going to be very good. So that’s what this camp is and that’s what practice is all about.”

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Associated Press

New head coach Jim Boylen from the Michigan State bench, where he was an assistant coach last year.

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