Utah was slam dunk for Boylen, family

Published: Sunday, Jan. 13 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah basketball coach Jim Boylen and his family, Chris and daughters, 2-year-old Ashlen and 1-year-old Layla, right, enjoy reading time at the family's home in Salt Lake City.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

On the east wall of Jim Boylen's office in the Huntsman Center is a framed poster from 1994 NBA Finals that he calls "my favorite picture."

Taken from floor level looking up, the picture shows five Houston Rocket players — Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, Hakeem Olajuwon, Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith — with their hands together in a huddle.

"That picture right there is the reason I got into coaching," says Boylen. "That, to me, is what it's all about — putting your hand in the huddle, taking ownership of each other's success and being a part of a group of guys trying to get something done together."

The energetic Boylen is certainly getting it done in his first year as the University of Utah basketball coach. With the halfway point of his initial season approaching this week in San Diego, Boylen has already made tremendous strides in turning around a traditionally strong Utah basketball program that hit rock bottom a year ago.

His Utes stand 10-4 on the season and, except for an early-season home loss to Santa Clara, have been in every game until the final minutes, including games at Oregon and Gonzaga.

"It's been a blast, it's really been fun," says Boylen. "It's been tough at times, and it's been a learning experience. But the reason I wanted to go back to college is that I want to have a chance to put my handprint on something."

Boylen is passionate, he's sincere, he's genuine, he's honest. He's the kind of coach that can bawl a player out with a killer look that makes him want to crawl into a hole one minute and then give the same player a big bear hug the next minute and tell him how much he loves him.

"He is the most hard-working, intense, caring person," says Ute junior forward Shaun Green. "He's a great coach, a great person to play for. He's going to ride you when you're not playing well, but he's going to praise you when you're doing things correctly. He's the first one to yell at you but also the first one to pick you up after a bad play."

Boylen is straightforward with his players, and for that matter, everyone he comes in contact with.

"People call it an in-your-face approach," Boylen says. "It's a reality, honest approach. I'm very upfront. That's how a family is. If you're upset with someone, you talk to them about it. But you still love them."

The 42-year-old Boylen arrived in Utah last March with plenty of experience, including 13 years in the NBA with two championship rings, and two stints covering seven years at Michigan State, one of the premier programs in college basketball. But he had never been a head coach.

"It always came back to the same thing, 'You haven't been a head coach,"' says Boylen of his attempts to become one.

Finally, someone took a chance on Boylen when Utah athletic director Chris Hill hired him last spring. That decision is already bearing fruit. Besides five more victories than the Utes had at this time last season, Boylen has brought discipline, team unity and enthusiasm to the Ute program.

"I feel like this was meant to be," says Boylen. "I want to build something we can be proud of and is lasting."

Interviewing Boylen is a lot like watching him coach a ballgame, where he is all over the place, pacing the sideline, crouching in a defensive stance, haranguing the officials or leaping in the air with a fist pump after a Johnnie Bryant 3-pointer.

He gets so excited he's almost shouting at times and then, in an instant, is speaking in such a soft whisper, you'd think his office is bugged and he doesn't want anyone else to hear.

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