Utes look to leaders

By By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

With team practice under way and games just a few weeks away, the U men’s basketball team is looking to find its identity.

Head coach Jim Boylen said the team isn’t quite there yet.

“We are a work in progress,” Boylen said. “I like the group of guys I have. I’m not satisfied with where we are, but I probably shouldn’t be, this early.”

In addition to skills on the court, one of the things last year’s conference champion team had was mental toughness, something this year’s team needs to improve on, Boylen said.

“We have physical toughness,” said the third-year coach. “But we are not mentally tough yet, and we don’t understand yet how hard we have to play to play at this level.”

Another challenge the team faces is replacing the production of last year’s seniors, who accounted for a large portion of the Utes’ success. Together, they had more than 50 percent of the team’s offensive output. The Utes will be looking to replace not only production, but also leadership and knowledge of the program.

“To replace Shaun (Green)’s and Luke (Nevill)’s skill will be hard,” Boylen said. “But to replace their experience will be harder.”

The team will look to senior forward Kim Tillie and guard Luka Drca to fill the gaps in that regard.
“We became a player-coached team last year,” Boylen said. “I want us to become a player-coached team this year. Tillie and Drca need to give us defense and toughness and an understanding of the system that they can verbalize to the other guys, so they can hold them accountable to the system.”

During summer ball and fall practice, the two seniors have begun to show the leadership that Boylen said is crucial to the team’s success. According to Boylen, Drca is improving his leadership communication, and Tillie has set a great example on the floor.
Boylen also spoke about what having leaders means to his team.

“I think a great leader is when the guys fear you because they don’t want to let you down,” he said.

Tillie said he is embracing his new role as leader on and off the court.

“I’m getting more comfortable being a vocal leader,” Tillie said. “That’s my role8212;to lead.”
Drca also said he feels comfortable as a leader and will push the team to win.

“I expect a lot,” said the Serbian native. “I want to win as a senior. We’ll play as hard as we can.”

Despite the new look and personnel of this year’s team, Boylen said the team’s style of play will not change.

“I don’t think there is a difference in our style of play,” he said. “I believe in sticking to our philosophy of defending, rebounding and running.”

Another player expected to emerge as a go-to guy is junior guard Carlon Brown. Brown was named an Honorable Mention All-Mountain West Conference player last year, but he will need to become a more vital part of the offensive attack for the Utes to be successful.
“Of course, I’ve got to be more of a threat on offense,” Brown said. “I’ve got to knock down shots and create post-ups for the big guys.”

The Utes will kick off their season Nov. 13, but as for now, Boylen said he will keep pushing his players hard in practice.

“We’re beat to a pulp,” Boylen said. “Which means we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

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Tyler Cobb

As one of two seniors on the team, Kim Tillie will be expected to provide leadership and experience.