Seniors build foundation for success

By Paige Fieldsted, Staff Writer

Head coach Jim Boylen has turned the Runnin’ Utes into an entirely different team from the squad that went 13-18 two years ago. Leadership makes all the difference.

“All the adversity we’ve been through has helped frame these guys,” Boylen said. “Their individual improvement, their improvement as guys has been awesome. Their leadership has improved a lot.”

Shaun Green, Luke Nevill, Lawrence Borha and Tyler Kepkay have been the foundation for the changes Boylen has made to the Utah system.

In his farewell speeches to the seniors, Boylen thanked each one for trusting him and working with him to help rebuild the program.

“They bought in, and you have to give them credit for that because change is tough,” Boylen said. “Change is hard on a kid at this level and I’m glad they stuck it out.”

The seniors, after having unsuccessful seasons their first two years, were more than ready for the change Boylen brought with him.

“After the first two years, we realized that the way we were going about things just wasn’t working,” Green said. “We were all ready for the change, ready to be better. Buying in from day one has really paid off for us.”

Buying in has brought success, which includes victories against Oregon, Gonzaga and LSU en route to a 21-9 season and a regular-season MWC championship.

“A lot of our success has to do with the seniors; they have the ability to lead,” said sophomore Carlon Brown. “They all have their own ways of talking to us younger guys. They just push everybody.”

For the Utes, the leadership that has come from the seniors in their last season started well before the team ever set foot on the court.

“It all started in the summer when we were lifting weights,” Brown said. “They were at the gym at 6 a.m. every day lifting hard, and that made us lift hard.”

The seniors led their team by example, whether lifting weights or while at practice or games.

Among Nevill, Green, Borha and Kepkay, the seniors have averaged 51 points, 20 rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals per game.

It has been the seniors who have made the big plays in close games to give Utah the edge over teams such as BYU, New Mexico and Gonzaga.

“We have four seniors that have been through all the ups and all the downs; we just know what it takes to win games now,” Green said. “We bring a calmness to the game and help the younger guys get through tough situations because we’ve been there.”

It’s been because of the adversity they have faced and their ability to stay calm in big-time situations that the seniors have been able to close out games with wins this season.

“We’ve played them in the end, we went with them in the big games8212;BYU, New Mexico, UNLV8212;in the last couple of minutes because they’ve earned it,” Boylen said. “They’ve worked hard and it’s remarkable what they’ve done with this schedule.”

For the seniors, winning the regular season could just be the first on a list of accolades and accomplishments this season. Utah is a No. 2 seed in the MWC tournament and is also a near-lock for the NCAA tournament, given its high Ratings Percentage Index.

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Tyler Cobb

Senior center Luke Nevill has been a stabilizing force veteran Utah squad this season. The 2008-09 MWC Player of the Year averaged 16.7 points per game, alongside 9.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per outing.