|Head Coach Rick Majerus is 180-55 (.766) in eight seasons at Utah.|
For the first time in four years, Utah Head Basketball Coach Rick Majerus will put a University of Utah basketball team on the floor without Keith Van Horn. Van Horn, the first consensus All-American at Utah in 35 years, left as the leading career scorer in school and Western Athletic Conference history with 2,542 points. The only player in history to be named WAC Player of the Year three times, Van Horn led the Utes to three straight conference titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the "Elite Eight" this past season. He was the second player picked in last summer's NBA Draft.
The Utes have also been ranked in the top 25 in the country the last three years, finishing at No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll of the 1996-97 season. Van Horn led the Utes to a 29-4 season record and a 15-1 conference mark, averaging 22.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game during the '96-'97 campaign. Van Horn's shoes will be hard to fill, as will those of Ben Caton's, who also finished his Ute career. Caton, who was named to the all-WAC Defensive team last season, was a steadying influence on the Utes as well as being an outstanding defender. Also lost to a church mission is Jeff Johnsen who made significant contributions last year as a freshman.
The loss of Van Horn is big, but according to Majerus, the loss of Caton cannot be understated. "The obvious fact with our team, is that we have lost the leading scorer in the history of the league and the most valuable player in the league. The loss of Keith Van Horn is apparent to all. The loss that is not apparent is the loss of the best defender in the league. I thought Ben Caton was the finest defender and the best role player in both his senior and junior seasons. Without the presence and toughness of Caton and the scoring of Van Horn, we are into a wait and see mode."
|Center Michael Doleac finished second on the team in scoring and rebounding a year ago.|
The cupboard, however, is not bare. The Utes return three starters from last year's team. Center Michael Doleac finished second on the team in scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He was named first-team all-WAC, all-District and a member of the all-WAC Defensive team. The 6-11 Doleac will be a major force for the Utes this season and is rated among the top collegiate centers in the country. Joining Doleac as returning starters are point guard Andre Miller and forward Drew Hansen. Miller came into his own last season as a point guard, averaging 9.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. He finished third in the WAC in assists in all game stats and second in the conference only stats (7.2). He was named to the all-WAC defensive team by both the media and the coaches. Hansen, who started 22 games last season, averaged 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per outing. Much of his contribution came on the defensive end of the floor where he was a major factor for the Utes in every game. "I like Doleac and Andre," says Majerus, "and I know that Drew will give you all he's got."
Four other lettermen return to provide the Utes quality experience this season. Guards David Jackson and Jordie McTavish and forward Hanno Mottola are back, along with Alex Jensen, just returned from a two-year church mission. Jackson averaged 3.4 points per game last season and will be a key on the Ute guard line as a sophomore. Mottola, who averaged 6.4 points per game as a freshman, should help fill the scoring void in the front court caused by the loss of Van Horn. "Jordie and David are going to have to play much better defensively because there won't be anyone to cover up for them," advises Majerus. "Hanno has to step to the forefront and become a player who realizes his potential in every aspect of the game. Hanno and Jordie were plagued by inconsistency last year. That may be expected as freshmen, but it certainly won't fly as sophomores."
The 6-7 Jensen averaged 6.7 points and 6.1 rebounds during the 1994-95 season before leaving on his mission to England. His return, along with that of 6-11 Greg Barratt, who redshirted before his mission, should help the Ute scoring and rebounding when they get back in playing shape. "The returned missionaries are dramatically out of shape," says Majerus. "We'll have to see how soon they can overcome that."
|Drew Hansen started 22 games last season at forward.|
Incoming players who could contribute this season are 6-9 Britton Johnsen, a McDonald's and Parade Magazine High School All-America choice as a senior at Murray High School last season. He averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds. Jon Carlisle (6-9), from Brighton High School in Salt Lake City, averaged 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds last season and will also help. Trace Caton, a 6-4 guard from Alamosa, Colo. (23.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.0 apg), and 6-2 Adam Sharp (16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg), who went on a mission straight out of high school and just returned, are also available. Both Johnsen's and Caton's older brothers played for the Utes last season.
Following are quotes from Rick Majerus on different aspects of the team:
"I think offensively we will be more balanced in our scoring. We will have to be a team that is opportunistic. We are certainly going to look to push the ball. The expectation that I have is we will be a very good rebounding team if guys play to their abilities. The offense is a question mark, where and when the points come. It's anybody's guess as we begin the season. We are going to have to rely more on a balanced scoring attack and certainly we are going to have to try and get second shots, set better picks and share the ball more. There won't be any room for error, relative to spacing or timing, because Van Horn is not there to erase the mistakes."
"Defensively, I think we will claw and scratch. I think we have an opportunity to be a very smart defensive team as well as a very aggressive defensive team. I like the depth possibilities right now and I like the fact that we should be a very good defensive rebounding team. We have size and a little bit of bounce. What we lack in quickness we can more than compensate for in heart and depth. I think the players that are returning have a familiarity with our defense and will work together. We also don't have to be as aware of trying to protect Keith (Van Horn) in foul situations, which should be a plus for us."
"I think that any speculation on team chemistry is just that, speculation. I think the guys will be unselfish this year and share the ball. That has been a trait of ours for the last eight years. I think we will definitely have good role definition and each of the player's roles will become very apparent as the season unfolds. Last year we didn't arrive at our starting lineup until the second game of the conference season and my guess is that this year we will experiment with lineups and make changes up until at least that point. We have more versatility this year, relative to the guys defending and playing different spots. I think chemistry is more a case of unselfishness and commitment and I feel that there are going to be some very committed guys and I'm hoping that everyone will get on board that train."
|Point guard Andre Miller was a member of the all-WAC defensive team as a sophomore.|
ON REPLACING KEITH VAN HORN
"It's very difficult to replace Keith. He is the leading scorer in the history of the school and the league, so he is not going to be replaced by any one individual. We're not looking to replace Keith, I'm not putting that responsibility on someone. I like the fact that we have players who are good and our style of play will change a little bit. Everything was run to Keith and he evolved as a great player. This year there will be more shared situations where everyone has an opportunity to get a look at the ball and the shot and I think, characteristically, we will make the extra pass. Our teams have been unselfish to a fault and I don't see that changing. The only thing that will change is that there will be more balanced scoring, and in a way, that may be as difficult to defend as Keith. Hopefully, we can overcome Keith's loss by being better on the defensive end and having more of a rebound presence, because we are not going to find anybody on our club who is going to score in the high double-digits the way Keith did every night."
BY VICTORIES RK SCHOOL RECORD PCT. 1. Kansas 228-46 .832 2. Kentucky 219-50 .814 3. Arkansas 213-63 .771 4. North Carolina 212-64 .768 5. Arizona 204-55 .788 6. Massachusetts 202-67 .751 Duke 202-73 .735 8. UCLA 194-61 .761 9. Connecticut 193-68 .739 10. UTAH 192-67 .741 BY WINNING PERCENTAGE RK SCHOOL RECORD PCT. 1. Kansas 228-46 .832 2. Kentucky 219-50 .814 3. Arizona 204-55 .788 4. Arkansas 213-63 .771 5. North Carolina 212-64 .768 6. Charleston 173-53 .765 7. UCLA 194-61 .761 8. Massachusetts 202-67 .751 9. Princeton 161-56 .742 10. UTAH 192-67 .741