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Arena: Jon M Huntsman Center
School Name: University of Utah
For Utah coach Ray Giacoletti, the question is whether he faced more pressure last season, knowing he had to maximize a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to coach Andrew Bogut, or this season, when he has to build a program in Bogut's absence. Answer: It's all the same, just different. "In this job, there's pressure every day," Giacoletti says. The Utes made the most of Bogut's second and final collegiate season by reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1998. That achievement validated the hiring of Giacoletti as Rick Majerus' replacement. Naturally, die issue now becomes what Giacoletti can do without the top pick in the NBA Draft, but it's also a chance for him to create his own program.
The Utes played rather deliberately last season, making sure Bogut was involved in every possession. Now, Giacoletti wants to pick up the pace — especially defensively, with fullcourt pressure.
Besides Bogut, the Utes lost all-conference guard Marc Jackson to graduation and forward Justin Hawkins, who transferred to New Mexico State. But Giacoletti should have the backcourt depth he needs to implement his style of play.
Senior Tim Drisdom returns as the point guard. He's not a great shooter, but he runs the team well. Junior college transfer Johnnie Bryant, who practiced with the team during the second half of the season, is likely to replace Jackson at the other guard spot, competing with senior swing-man Richard Chaney. Prep school product Lawrence Borha, like Bryant, is known for his quickness and shooting ability.
Up front, the Utes' picture changes dramatically without Bogut. Replacing a player who has Croatian roots and grew up in Australia will be nearly impossible, but the Utes do have a center from Australia and a forward from Croatia. Australian center Luke Nevill redshirted as a freshman and is likely to move into the starting lineup ahead of senior Chris Jackson. Misha Radojevic arrives from Serbia with two years of eligibility and should make a big impact. He's 6' 10", 250, and "really understands the nuances of the game," Giacoletti says.
Forward Bryant Markson averaged 10.4 points as a complementary player last season and will have to assume a bigger scoring role as a senior.
The Utes will face much more of a struggle in the Mountain West after going 13-1 last season, but they should have enough talent and momentum from a 29-6 season to contend for the conference title.
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