Jason Nowa

Ute Basketball a Story of Struggle

By Jason Nowa

The University of Utah Utes’ 2011-2012 men’s basketball (Voices of Utah) team has completed the most atrocious season in their history. This season marked the Utes first 20-loss season as they tumbled to an uninspiring record of 6-25. They finished 11th overall in their first season as a member of the Pac-12 Conference.

“This season was rough, no way around it, but from where we started we saw improvement throughout the rest of the season.” said junior forward Dijon Farr.

The Utes packaged numerous transfers together to make a team, as eight players left the team last year following Coach Jim Boylen’s exit.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak (Voices of Utah) spun the best team available to him, and though it was a struggle from the start, many team members felt they competed hard in the second half of the season after a distraction in the locker room was resolved.

The team’s best player, senior Josh “Jiggy” Watkins was dismissed from the team January18, due to violation of team rules and constant struggles in the classroom. Watkins was the team’s leading scorer and with assists, with 15.6 points per game and 4.8 assists in only 16 games. The loss of Watkins occurred mid-season, and set the Utes back even more.

A season of few ups but mostly downs hit phenomenal proportions when the Utes suffered a 40- point setback at the University of Colorado on New Year’s Eve. Then the worst loss in the program’s 104 years occurred in the regular season finale, when the Utes lost by 46 points at the University of Oregon.

The Utes’ best victory of the season was at home, against Stanford, which finished in the middle of the pack in the Pac 12. The first conference victory was a January 5 home win against Washington State, 62-60 in overtime. The Utes finished 3-15 in their inaugural season in the Pac 12.

Jason Washburn was the team’s pleasant surprise player of the year as he broke out with 11.4 points per game. The junior center led the team after the dismissal of Watkins, with 6.2 rebounds per game. Washburn was a big fill-in player after starting center David Foster’s injury sidelined him for the season.

Some close to the team say it’s hard to put a team together on the fly and expect to win as the Utes did, especially after so many players left the squad. Krystkowiak has to get a few years of his own recruits to determine the tenor of his success or failure.

The Utes finished their season with a loss in the Pac 12 Tournament to conference champion Colorado, which upset UNLV in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Utes heading into next season will look to schedule more home games at the beginning of the year. This past season the Utes had only six non-conference home games far less than most Pac 12 teams. With a young team, home games scheduled for early in the season can be a great confidence boost. Team managers expect to overhaul the roster as numerous new players come in and some older player will likely transfer out.

“This year was a bad year for our team but coming back next year we hope to get our team situated and turn this thing around,” said junior guard Cedric Martin.

Expect Martin, and Farr to return next year. Kareem Storey, and Chris Hines are among four players who have been granted their release of scholarship to transfer. Center David Foster, nursing his broken foot, is recovering and should be ready for next season team managers mentioned.

Foster was the 2009 Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year as he led to a school record in blocked shots. Coping wit his injury, he said, took its toll. “It was tough to see and watch the guys all year long, but I’m on the road to recovery and look to really help our team become better next season.”

Hines, who at times during the season was the most explosive player on the team, mentioned that the Utes might surprise every team in the conference next season despite the fact that he is transferring.

There might be two new suspected starters in the lineup next year with redshirt transfer guards Aaron Dotson from LSU and Glen Dean from Eastern Washington University. Both started at their previous schools and are expected to be significant upgrades from this year’s starters.

Contrary to what pessimists believe, Utes basketball (Voices of Utah) could be on the upswing. With fall just around the corner, the roster will be set soon and practice will begin. With a healthy Foster and some transfer players coming in, the team could kick into gear. Returning players will bring experience and wisdom and Krystkowiak has every reason to feel upbeat.

“We are looking forward to next season and get everybody together to prove how good this team really can be,” said redshirt transfer guard Aaron Dotson.