Orphans find a home with Boylen’s plan

By By Nick Pappas

By Nick Pappas

When head coach Jim Boylen moved into the house that Rick Majerus built, he found a few orphans left behind from the last tenant. Former head coach Ray Giacoletti adopted an abandoned class of freshmen and let them roam the basketball court. He didn’t feed them the fundamentals players need to survive. He didn’t clothe them in uniforms of urgency. He left them on the floor to starve with two years left in their college careers.

That’s when Boylen arrived to clean up the mess. Those orphans are seniors now, and they couldn’t have asked for a better role model.

“As a coach we take a lot of different roles, a father figure, (a) mentor; you try to start fires in guys’ guts and you try to get your guys to reach their potential,” said Boylen after the 74-59 win over Air Force on Saturday.

It isn’t easy to treat someone else’s children as his own, but in only two years, Boylen has led this team to an almost certain berth in the NCAA tournament8212;an amazing feat considering we have yet to see what the coach will do with his own recruits filling in the starting line-up.

It hasn’t been easy for Boylen to turn these kids around.

Last year was plagued by turnovers. Not just threading-the-needle-almost-there passes, but wild passes thrown to invisible players. When the starved orphans reached crunch time, they lacked the faith that discipline provides. An unbelievable 10 games were decided by fewer than six points, with five of those decided by three or fewer. The Utes lost seven of them.

This year started off the same. Stability isn’t easy when the foundation has cracks. Four early losses were decided by fewer than four points, including a bewildering call against Utah State.

And then the Utes turned the corner.

The players left failure behind and became a family. They started to feed off the energy Boylen can’t help but exude and most importantly, they started winning.

Utah is on a six-game winning streak, which started with an overtime victory against BYU and followed with a 69-68 win versus New Mexico. These were games the crowd expected them to fold. They became battles where old wounds began to mend.

Better still are the heroes emerging from the frays. They are the same left-behind orphans who the fans simply wanted to finish out their stay.

Luke Nevill, the underachieving 7-footer, scored 32 points and nabbed 10 rebounds against rival BYU. Tyler Kepkay started a fire in overtime, throwing up circus shots and pumping his fists after each one.

Lawrence Borha has scored in double digits every game since the victory over BYU and has been sinking 3-pointers as if he were dropping quarters in a candy machine. The crowning achievement was Saturday night against Air Force. He made 5-of-6 and has now shot 60 percent from beyond the arc since the winning streak’s inception.

Last but not least, Shaun Green has had the best games of his career on his way to being named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week for the first time.

Somehow he flipped the switch to the “on” position and was a terror.

He scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the 67-55 victory over San Diego State last week, and added 13 points versus Air Force. In those two games, he shot 63.2 percent from the field, including 5-of-11 from 3-point land.

Where were these seniors last year, and the year before, and the year before that? They were lost boys looking for direction. This year, Boylen is pointing them toward an incredible finish.

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Nick Pappas