Utah Utes women's basketball team likes their prospects in Pac-12

Published: Wednesday, May 18 2011 8:00 p.m. MDT

The University of Utah women's basketball interim Head Coach Anthony Levrets talks to his team during a game against the University of Wyoming at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, January 15, 2011. The Utes lost.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Editor's note: This is the fifth installment in an ongoing series exploring the Utes' move to the Pac-12 Conference. Read the fourth, third, second and first installments.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Anthony Levrets officially moved from interim coach to full-fledged head coach of the Utah women's basketball team in March, he did so with high expectations.

Compete at the top of the Pac-12?

Higher than that.

"We want to be able to continue what Elaine (Elliott) started," Levrets said.

Being able to do that, he added, will allow the Utes to play with the best in their new conference — and the top teams in the country.

Levrets' team is stepping into a league with a great history surrounding women's basketball. From member schools that were a part of the first women's intercollegiate game in the nation — a matchup between Stanford and California in 1896 — to having a team advance to the Sweet 16 in 28 of the last 30 NCAA tournaments, to being the conference of current national powerhouse Stanford, the Pac-12 has a wealth of talented programs.

"I grew up in the Northwest and my wife played for Washington State," Levrets said. "I understand the passion those communities have for their sports. Women's basketball is a really big deal in that league, and we're excited to become a part of that."

The Utes will add their own rich tradition when they officially become part of the Pac-12 on July 1. Before stepping aside for a year-long leave of absence and then retirement, Elliott established the Utes as a team to be reckoned with in her 27 seasons as head coach. She retired with 71.3 winning percentage.

"When I arrived at Utah (four years ago), that was already the tradition," Levrets said of playing on a national stage. "We've done a good job of recruiting kids at that level already."

However, he did echo the idea that coaches of other Utah programs have stated: Adding the Pac-12 label will change the recruiting process considerably.

"It will get rid of the first 20 minutes of recruiting meetings where we have to explain why Utah is a great school even though it's not in a major conference," he said. "The extra exposure will allow our athletic department to shine and also show why this university is such a great place to get an education."

In addition to the added exposure the conference affiliation will give Utah, Levrets has made two additions to his coaching staff: A local face in JD Gustin, who has been the head coach at Westminster College the past seven years, and a West Coast face in Willette White, who has worked with the Washington, UCLA and Oregon programs.

"Willette will help us become more relevant sooner," Levrets said. "She is well-known on the West Coast; she will help get the word about Utah out to others."

White agreed that the goal is to spread the Utes' name to allow more people to see what the university has to offer.

"It's brand recognition," she said. "The Pac-12 will allow for more exposure, we'll be on TV more often."

She then added, "There are so many kids in Los Angeles and the Northwest and all over that have wanted to play in the Pac-10. This gives them another option, and it'll be fun to get Utah's name out to people who don't know us well."

As for the upcoming season, the Utes couldn't be more thrilled for the next challenge.

After peaking at just the right time and upsetting the top two seeds in the Mountain West Conference tournament for both the tournament title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Levrets said his young team is ready for the Pac-12.

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