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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Men’s Hoops: Runnin’ Utes set to dominate next season

By Chris Kamrani

Just the same as the past few years, the Runnin’ Utes are awaiting a return to prominence and, potentially, postseason play, and that doesn’t include the College Basketball Invitational.

Last March, athletic director Chris Hill brought in his “right man” for the job.

Former NBA and collegiate assistant coach Jim Boylen was brought in to steer the once-famed program in the right direction after a few years off utility at the hands of former coach Ray Giacoletti.

A sensational first-year turnaround? Not exactly.

However, the program did take a tremendous step in the right direction under the emphatic Boylen. Prior to the 2007-2008 season, questions surrounded the rather unknown roster and newly appointed head coach.

Boylen had one effective senior on his roster in the sharp-shooting — Johnnie Bryant. He also benefited from inheriting a 7-foot-1 Aussie center in Luke Nevill. Boylen shook things up from the start, bringing his most versatile scorer, Bryant, off the bench as a potential game-changing sixth-man.

It turned out to be an entertaining year, to say the least.

The Utes, who were picked to finish in the bottom of the Mountain West Conference, surprised each and every team with their all-out, blue-collar type play.

A road victory in Berkeley, Calif., showed the team’s potential as it faced off against one of the top big men in the nation in California’s Ryan Anderson.

The most impressive defensive performance of the year came against Air Force in the MWC season-opener. The stressing of defense by the coaching staff forced Air Force to score a lean 36 points in the Huntsman Center.

The team fought through struggles of losing sharp-shooter wing Stephen Weigh and combo guard Curtis Eatmon. Later in the season, Boylen saw his two right-hand men depart the program. Marty Wilson left to return to his alma matter, Pepperdine, while Chris Jones fled north to Logan and a top assistant job with Utah State.

With what many would say was quite an eventful first year for the Utes under Boylen, the upcoming season doesn’t get much easier.

Since his arrival, Boylen has continued to say that he wants a strong non-conference schedule to test the mettle of his young team, and he stuck by his word.

Making the trip to the Huntsman Center next year are notables such as California, Oregon and Gonzaga. Then comes the venture to Big 12 country with a date with star Blake Griffin and his Oklahoma Sooners.

As for the Runnin’ Ute roster — as fans learned this year — nothing is set in stone when it comes to Boylen.

The Utes do lose a major cog in senior captain Bryant. They lose heart and hustle in Chris Grant and Sayre Brennan. Besides that, expect four key returning seniors — Nevill, Tyler Kepkay, Lawrence Borha and Shaun Green — to lead. Not to be forgotten are European players Luka Drca of Serbia and Kim Tillie of France.

Late in the season, Drca showed the potential to run the Ute offense, while Tillie’s versatile game often wowed fans.

Coming in is highly-ranked center Jason Washburn of Battle Creek, Mich. Washburn, who is referred to as a long center with good athletic ability, could be used to back up Nevill and Tillie.

Despite a veteran-heavy roster, Boylen did lose his two best recruiters in Wilson and Jones. Boylen has mentioned that he plans to recruit heavily on the national level, while keeping a close, watchful eye on Utah. Newly-hired Stan Johnson will help with the national recruiting.

With a multifaceted team coming back, roster spots to fill and an assistant coach to scrounge up, Boylen has a very full off-season plate.

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