Boylen Point: Runnin' Utes at an Impetuous Crossroads?
I know Jim Boylen.
Now, I don't know him as well as, say, his wife Christine, but I spent a year and a half off-and-on sitting on press row at the Huntsman Center.
So I've had long conversations with the vehement Runnin' Utes head coach.
What you see is what you get.
With Boylen, there always needs to be that added sense of mutual respect. When I first met Boylen, he gave me a hug and welcomed me.
Nevermind the fact that I was a member of the media that game. That didn't matter.
He wanted to know who I was, and in turn, I figured out who he was lickity split.
The guy's a winner. A gamer. Someone who wants to prove everyone wrong by doing all the right things.
He's coached Hakeem The Dream. He's coached Yao Ming. He's coached Baron Davis.
His track record speaks for itself. He won a Mountain West Conference championship in his second year at the U.
He transformed a group of never-will-bes into conference champions in two seasons.
Last season couldn't seem further down the road in the rear-view mirror now, though. The Utes are painfully average this season with the first real crop of Boylen's recruit taking place on the hill.
In the second matchup against rival BYU, the Cougars ran Boylen's boys out of the Huntsman Center.
In fact, they ran him into a brick wall. Boylen, you could tell, was pissed off and embarrassed. Full of questions and absolutely no clue where to find the answers.
The Cougars scored a 71-51 win. Jimmer Fredette, one of the best players in MWC history, had just eight points.
But it wasn't as much the Cougars being their regular No. 15-ranked selves.
It was the Utes.
They were so atrocious from the field that Dick Cheney could've shot better.
Utah shot 14-of-52 from the field. That's good enough for 26.9 percent.
Cheney definitely coulda hit some.
So, now, as the Utes sit 14-15 (7-8 MWC), is a game like this an essential wake-up call for a program that was supposedly on the rebound?
Or just a really, really bad night against one of the best teams in the nation—not to mention a hated rival.
I would say, a little of both.
Boylen knows what it takes to win. He's won rings.
Is it him, or this roster?
I'd go with the latter. Boylen knows how to coach. This team doesn't know how to play. Or win. Or defend.
Boylen will say they do, because, well, that's his job. To build the something out of nothing.
Truth is, it doesn't look very bright right now for the program. BYU is getting stronger and stronger. New Mexico is the class of the conference, and UNLV and SDSU are perennial threats.
If there was one word to describe this Utah roster, it'd be: inconsistent.
Luka Drca is a disaster waiting to happen.
David Foster is Luke Nevill, minus anything resembling an offense.
Carlon Brown is a D-League dunk contest winner.
Jace Tavita can't shoot. Can't drive. Can barely dish.
Marshall Henderson can shoot, but he's the J.R. Smith of Boylen's squad.
You catch my drift.
It's too early to start digging Boylen's grave. Actually, don't even both thinking about it.
The guy's gone 56-40 in three years and won a MWC championship.
But things will have to change. The roster will need to be upgraded to compete with the likes of the Cougars and Lobos.
It's a bit unfair to Boylen as well, considering the once nationally-prominent basketball program has been a slowly fading candlelight until he arrived.
Fans don't come out in bunches. Utah has turned into a football school. Kyle Whittingham is king.
All the credit in the world to the job he's accepted and the foundation he's built.
Boylen once told me, "You just gotta chop wood. That tree will fall."
Wednesday's blowout loss to BYU brought down a different tree.
He addressed the media afterward, and the sometimes jovial, sometimes volatile coach bit back.
As reported by Brad Rock of the Deseret News, Boylen was asked why his offense lacked efficiency.
Boylen responded, "The ball didn't go in the hoop."
When asked again why, he went verbatim once again.
Prodded once again, Boylen said, "Next question."
The rattlesnake that was antagonizing Boylen was Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson, who's been known to ruffle feathers—particularly at the U, for some reason.
People may think the Utah coach is just another adrenaline junkie, stoned on pick-and-rolls, but Boylen is a guy that notices everything.
I had worn a tie to a game I covered once on account of a presentation I had to give while at school earlier that night.
The next game I showed up much less casual and Boylen pointed out I wasn't as spiffed out.
Boylen went after Monson, and for probable good measure, saying, "Don't come here once every two years and ask those questions. I don't want to hear that from you."
Monson rebutted: "I can ask the questions."
Boylen shot back, "I'm not answering it. Don't come here once every two years. I don't want to hear that from you."
Monson again: "Coach, give me a break—show some class."
Choice words, Gordon.
Finally, Boylen lowered his proverbial boom, "Yeah, nice of you to show up."
Good to know that fire was burning deep inside someone on the Utah sideline, because the egg the Runnin' Utes laid was epic—especially on senior night.
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. You can bet on Boylen mulling this one over for quite some time. It'll stew in him like some zesty gumbo for a good few days.
Of course, Monson will use his god-given tactics of the written word. He'll slam Boylen, as we all expect him to do.
When Boylen completed his first year at the U, taking his team to an 18-15 record and upsetting UNLV on its home court in the MWC tourney, I recall telling a friend that I thought Boylen was destined for a bigger gig.
For higher altitudes than ripping apart and reconstructing the Runnin' Utes.
Knowing Boylen, there are a million tiny things blazing through his psyche, and time will tell what will happen with his program, but what we do know is this: He's a coach.
He will take no unwarranted bologna and press on and try to win the next one.
Just don't think he's building nothing out of something.
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