Great Debate: No amount of coifed hair can stop the Utes

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

I covered Utah basketball throughout that horrendous season a year ago. I went to practice every day and saw the lackadaisical effort by the team and the sub-par motivational techniques of Ray Giacoletti. I was there when season-ticket holders were justly asking for a rebate.

But that was then, this is now.

New head coach Jim Boylen has been whipping the Runnin’ Utes into shape with an intense offseason and there is no doubt in my mind that it will translate into success on the court.

They will win the Mountain West Conference title this season — that much I am sure of. It doesn’t matter that BYU has their pretty boy Trent Plaisted back or that Wyoming has one of the best guard tandems in the country. The Utes are going to take it.

If you don’t agree with or believe me, just go to one of the Utah basketball practices. After watching Boylen scream at his players, demanding almost more than they can give, you will see why I’m so convinced.

The guy lives on the defensive end of the court. He preaches fundamentals and challenging shots because he knows that is where the Utes need the most work.

Even more importantly, Boylen has taught Utah players to take ownership of the team and the program. He has taken the individuality out of Utah basketball and instilled a selfless attitude. When coupled with Boylen’s basketball profundity, that attitude will pay huge dividends for the Utes.

The first-year head coach inherits a roster that overflows with size and talent. Four starters and a number of other experienced players return from a year ago to bolster the Utes’ game.

At the top of that list is the subject of many opponents’ frustrations a year ago — center Luke Nevill. The Aussie stood head and shoulders above the competition (literally and figuratively) last season and can only improve under Boylen’s tutelage.

Also returning for the Utes are sharpshooting power forward Shaun Green, point guard Johnnie Bryant and defensive wunderkind Lawrence Borha. I’m also told that the oft-injured Kim Tillie is going to stay healthy and grab 1,000 rebounds and newcomer Tyler Kepkay is going to win every three-point contest he enters.

There really isn’t a better combination of athletic ability and coaching prowess anywhere in the Mountain West Conference. Wyoming has Brad Jones and Brandon Ewing, but absolutely nothing in terms of a low-post game. San Diego State is dealing with the loss of its two best players. Air Force is dealing with the loss of its entire roster. TCU has some of the best athletes, but can’t seem to find a coach who’s worth anything. Colorado State lost center Jason Smith, who was the only center comparable to Nevill. UNLV returns one starter and his name is Wink.

The two teams that will compete with the Utes this year are New Mexico and BYU, but even they won’t be able to outwork Boylen’s team. Plaisted’s gross hookshot will get swatted into the 17th row of the Huntsman Center and New Mexico’s J.R. Giddens and his high-flying theatrics will be grounded by the Utes’ stringent defense.

Naysayers can spout what they will. Yes, the Utes finished last season with an abysmal 11-19 record. Yes, Shaun Green was a soft four man. Yes, Jason Peterson is a tool. And yes, Trent Plaisted’s perfectly coifed hair can alter time when he slicks it just right.

But that was last year. Well, except the part about Jason — that’ll be the same.

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