Team preview: Utah

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

One of the first tasks on Ray Giacoletti's agenda after he became Utah's coach last spring was a trek to Australia to visit the family of Andrew Bogut.
Turns out it was his best coaching move of the season.

Bogut (20.4 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.8 bpg, 1.0 spg, .620 FG), who was contemplating a jump to the professional ranks, ended up the consensus national player of the year as a sophomore.

"The things he did far exceeded some of the things we talked about [with his family]. … I don't think any of us had any idea what he was capable of," Giacoletti said.
That goes for the Utes as a team, too, as they continually surprised the first-year coach.

"It seems like a big blur, how everything came together," said Giacoletti, who succeeded Rick Majerus.

A 29-6 record (13-1 in the Mountain West) and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen could not have been possible without a couple established principles.

"The biggest thing was guys buying in and believing that the team could be successful," Giacoletti said. "This meant Andrew getting touches in the halfcourt and them buying in to playing defense."

This steadfast commitment to Giacoletti's philosophy saw Utah finish in the top 25 (14th and 19th) for the first time in six seasons.

The Utes clobbered foes both on the glass (11.1 rebound margin, a conference record) and on the scoreboard (12.1 point margin, another conference record). Their 54.8 points allowed per game was the second lowest total ever in the conference.

"The two keys to our success were defensively -- playing solid man-to-man -- and rebounding," Giacoletti said.

Clearly, this was the MWC's most dominant team in its brief six-year existence.

"They had their problems early. But when they figured out what they were doing and the style they were playing, they were unbeatable," new BYU coach Dave Rose said.
Utah won 18 straight games until losing to New Mexico in the MWC Tournament championship game. The Utes got the most out of their NCAA Tournament bid, advancing to the Sweet 16 before losing to Kentucky. While the season ended, the voyage continued in other places as Bogut (who won the Wooden and Naismith Awards) was at one postseason award show after another. It culminated at the NBA draft, as the Milwaukee Bucks selected him as the No. 1 overall pick.

Because he got the opportunity to coach Bogut only one season, Giacoletti considers himself fortunate on every front.

"Those guys come along only once in a lifetime," he said. "But the thing about Andrew is that he's a better person than a player. He was just a privilege to be around."

Besides Bogut, Utah also lost Marc Jackson (10.7 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.2 rpg), the school's all-time three-point shooter (44 percent) and third-best free-throw shooter (84 percent), who had returned for his senior season after sitting out the previous one.

With Majerus gone, Jackson (a first-team all-MWC selection) blossomed under Giacoletti.

"Marc was just a tough, hard-nosed defender," Giacoletti said. "He was the type of guy that rises to the occasion. It was fun to coach him for a year. I was so glad, Marc being from Salt Lake City and all that he went out with a good taste in his mouth."

Two key players -- Justin Hawkins (8.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 apg) and Richard Chaney (7.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg) -- transferred in the off-season. Hawkins announced his decision shortly after the season; Chaney waited until mid-August.

"That kind of took us by surprise," said Giacoletti, one week after Chaney's departure.

Hawkins will play two seasons under new coach Reggie Theus at New Mexico State. Chaney will play his final season at Indiana, where former Utah interim coach Kerry Rupp is an assistant.