Utah Utes basketball: Can the Utes stand tall again?

Published: Wednesday, May 25 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

Quite a few seats are left empty at the Huntsman Center as University of Utah fans watch the Utes game against San Diego State in Salt Lake City, Utah Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010.

T.J. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

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

SALT LAKE CITY — At 7-foot-3, Utah center David Foster has a pretty good view of things up on the hill. His vantage point, however, isn't all about height. It also involves circumstances.

Foster has seen a lot of change in his career with the Utes. Larry Krystkowiak will be his third head coach. Before serving an LDS Church mission in North Carolina, Foster played for Ray Giacoletti. Upon his return, Jim Boylen was running the show.

Now, as a senior, Foster is getting a triple dose of alterations — an all-new coaching staff, a revamped roster around him, and a move from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12.

As overwhelming as it all might be, Foster is taking it all in stride.

"I'm very optimistic that we can do great things," he said. "We've just got to put the time and effort into doing it."

It won't be easy, however. Only four players (Foster, point guard Josh Watkins, guard Chris Hines and center/forward Jason Washburn) return from last season's squad that went 13-18. The rest of this year's playing slots will be filled by guys without major college experience — transfers Glen Dean (Eastern Washington) and Aaron Dotson (LSU) won't be able to play for Utah until 2012-13.

That leaves junior college transfers Javon Dawson (6-7, 260), Dijon Farr (6-6, 213) and Cedric Martin (6-4, 190), returning LDS Church missionary Josh Sharp (6-7, 185) and high school signees George Matthews (6-7, 220), Anthony Odunsi (6-3, 200) and Kareem Storey (6-0, 190) in the rotation.

"I'm really excited about the new recruits coming in," Foster said. "Props to the coaches, they've just been working their tails off to find these players. There's been a lot of adversity and they've just done a tremendous job finding these guys, especially so late as far as the signing year goes."

Foster acknowledged that he and the other returnees will need to lead the way in Utah's move to the Pac-12.

"The four of us have a responsibility to set that foundation, to set the bar high and to help those new guys coming in to work hard and be prepared for the upcoming season," he said. "So we have to set the example for the team."

As such, there's no looking back.

"Right now, all I'm focused on is how we can better," Foster said.

It's the big-picture goal of the once-proud program. Only 17 other teams have made more NCAA Tournament appearances than the Utes. They've made only one appearance, however, since 2005 — falling to Arizona in the first round in 2009.

"It's our goal to make NCAA tournaments," Krystkowiak said as Utah prepares for the challenge of joining one of the nation's premier conferences.

The recognition that the league brings, along with the lucrative new television contract, puts the Utes in better position to do so.

Krystkowiak notes that when things get amped up, the Pac-12 could legitimately get six teams in the NCAA tourney each year.

"So you're going to have to be pretty competitive," he said. "I think it's pretty simple to look at some of the teams that are in this league and know that we've got some challenges ahead."

Joining the ranks of Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State will require building depth in the program.

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