Men working hard to stay on top

By Matt Sanchez, Staff Writer

When Utah head coach Jim Boylen first walked onto campus, the team he inherited was in disarray. The program had fallen off its pedestal and had all but lost the magic it once had. But Boylen knew that through hard work and structure, he would be able to get the team back on top, and after two short years, he’s done just that.

Last season, the Utes finished 24-10, shared the regular season Mountain West Conference crown, won the MWC Tournament and made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in four years, earning the highest seed in program history8212;a No. 5.

“I am obsessed with continuing to build this program, and it’s important to keep our momentum going,” Boylen said.

But the team has lost its four senior leaders from last year, who averaged close to 50 points per game. MWC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Luke Nevill, Shaun Green, Lawrence Borha and Tyler Kepkay will all leave big shoes to fill.

“These guys are leaving winners. They’re leaving Utes and they’ll be Utes and my guys forever,” Boylen said.

Even though the roster will be much different in 2009-2010, the team is confident it can stay on top of the mountain.

“This is not going to be a rebuilding year, it’s a repeat year,” said redshirt freshman Jason Washburn.

The coaching staff and players are all preaching the same message, a philosophy they believe will lead them to success: work harder than everyone else.

“I expect us to be the hardest-working team in college basketball and I expect us to get better every day,” Boylen said.

Although many believe that summer is the off-season for the basketball team, that is not the case. The entire team has been in town, taking summer classes and holding players-only practices.

“We’ve all been here working out and shooting four times a week,” said senior Kim Tillie. “I’ve been working on every aspect of my game and have seen a difference.”

NCAA guidelines restrict the amount of time the coaching staff can spend with the team during the summer, forcing the players to gather alone as a team for practices and instruct each other.

“I enjoy teaching the new guys as much as I can,” Tillie said. “Me and Carlon (Brown) run the drills at team practices without coaches. We do it so when the season comes around, we can get rolling.”

With major turnover on the roster, new leaders will emerge. Coming into the new season, everyone points to the same players8212;Tillie and Brown.

Tillie, a native of Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, has been a steady force on the court and in the locker room. At 6 feet 11 inches, Tillie has an intimidating presence, and has seen his rebounds and blocked shots increase during each of his three seasons at the U.
“Kim has elevated all areas of his game,” Boylen said. “And we are counting on him to be one of our top defensive players.”

Brown, a junior from Riverside, Calif., improved his game dramatically last season and his points (9.3), rebounds (5.2) and assists (3.3) were nearly doubled from his freshman season. For the team to be successful, he will need to continue raising his averages and lead the team.

“We have to get leadership from Carlon,” Boylen said. “As he improves as a player, the team will improve.”

One thing that is becoming a constant for the basketball team is the difficulty of the schedule. This season, the Utes will welcome the likes of Michigan and Oklahoma to the Huntsman Center. They will also play at LSU and face off against Illinois at the Las Vegas Invitational Tournament.

“I like the schedule,” Tillie said. “It’s really competitive and good, that’s why we work and practice so hard in the summer.”

Having a difficult schedule gives the team an impressive résumé and helps with seeding when postseason play rolls around. However, Boylen prefers facinghigh-caliber opponents for other reasons.

“I do it so I know my team,” Boylen said. “I need to know our strengths and weaknesses going into league play. It also helps in recruiting because guys want to play in big games. On paper, our schedule looks tougher than last year, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win.”

With nine of 15 players being underclassmen, some might think the team will struggle with chemistry, but Washburn disagrees.

“We spend every day together and are always practicing and getting to know each other’s games,” he said. “So we already have good chemistry.”

Repeating as conference champions might not be an easy task because of the youth and changes on the team, but the team is still confident.

“It’ll be tough to do what we did last year but if we work just as hard and put in the time then we will be right back where we were,” Washburn said. “In the national spotlight.”
Despite losing his four leading scorers, Boylen is sticking to the idea that it’s defense and hard work that wins games.

“We will play defense, rebound and run,” Boylen said. “Our offense will be a work in progress, but if we work hard, then we can have a great season.”

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