SALT LAKE CITY — Carlon Brown is downplaying his return to the Huntsman Center. On Saturday, the three-time Utah letterman will play in the arena for the first time since transferring to Colorado following the 2009-10 season.
"It's not special," said the senior guard, who sat out last year because of NCAA transfer rules. "It's just another day at the office, minus the paycheck."
Brown insists his focus is on helping the Buffaloes (17-8, 9-4) succeed. They're in the thick of the Pac-12 title chase and he would like to keep it that way.
"We've got to make sure we win every game," Brown said. "We can't harbor any personal feelings."
To do so, he added, could lead to slipping and falling off the mountain — leaving Colorado short of its goal to win the conference championship.
Contending is exactly where Brown hoped to be when he switched schools.
"I didn't want to regret staying at Utah and finish out my senior season losing and pretty much being unhappy," Brown said. "I wanted to go somewhere where I could contend for a championship and possibly make it back to the NCAA Tournament. And right now, this team has a shot at that. We've just got to keep getting better each day and focus on the task at hand."
Brown considers it ironic that his old team ended up in same conference as his new one. When official word came that Utah and Colorado would both compete in the Pac-12 this season, Brown chalked it up as just another team to play, another place to travel to, and another game the Buffs need to win on the schedule.
Since making the change, Brown hasn't looked back. He has consistently declined to discuss specifics that led to his transfer.
"I just didn't like the direction it was going and didn't feel I was being used as best as I could," Brown said. "I don't have any regrets making that decision now that I'm here."
Brown is averaging 12.6 points per game at Colorado, the exact same average he had as Utah's leading scorer in 2009-10. The Utes, however, struggled as a team — going 14-17 in head coach Jim Boylen's third season at the helm. Boylen was fired a year later, following a 13-18 campaign.
"I don't really want to go there," Brown said when asked about his decision to transfer from the program. "I think its something you would have to be in the locker room and actually come to every practice and endure every film session to really understand. Only the guys on that team that year really knew, especially the guys who decided to leave."
Besides Brown, Jordan Cyphers, Marshall Henderson and Matt Read also left Utah that offseason.
"It just wasn't how we envisioned playing basketball in college and we just were unhappy," Brown said. "So a lot of us made the decision to move on and there's no turning back or looking back from there."
The departures came a season after Utah went 24-10, winning the Mountain West Conference title and advancing to the NCAA tourney.
"That was a good year for us," Brown said while praising teammates like Luke Nevill, Shaun Green, Tyler Kepkay, Luka Drca and Kim Tillie. "We really put everything together."
Brown led the Utes with a team-high 3.3 assists per game that year.
"It was definitely a fun season, one that I will remember but I think a lot of people don't realize what went into that season as well," Brown said. "It wasn't as fun as it looked."
There were moments — ups and downs he explained — that only the team knows about.
Things grew worse the next season, Brown noted, when Utah went 14-17.
"We kind of struggled my junior year because we were a brand new team and we didn't have great chemistry," Brown said. "Pretty much, we didn't have camaraderie about us. So we were unable to win games on the road, at the Huntsman Center. It was just a mess."
As such, Brown notes that new Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak has a lot of work ahead of him.
"I'm sure he and his staff are doing everything they can to turn the fortune of that program around," Brown said. "It's just an unfortunate situation to go from conference champs to a below .500 season, but that's the way the game goes in college basketball. Sometimes your program is hot, sometimes it's not."
Programs that maintain success like Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky, he added, are in college basketball's upper echelon for a reason. It's all about recruiting and who you get in there to fill certain voids.
Brown expects Utah's historic move to the Pac-12 to pay dividends with all of the school's sports programs. They'll get better, he explained, because of people like athletic department administrators Dr. Chris Hill and Mary Bowman.
"They do a great job," Brown said. "So I expect to see them turn everything around."
Even though he's all about Colorado now, Brown wishes the folks up on the hill well.
"I don't have any ill feelings towards the University of Utah. They provided me with an education for three years," Brown said. "… I had some very good professors while I was there and some very good people in the athletics department that I would love to see this weekend and thank. I really enjoyed my time there."
Brown may see some other familiar faces as well. It's "Alumni Weekend" for the Utah basketball program.
"I didn't hear that," Brown said. "But hopefully I get to see some of my teammates."
It's a certainty with Chris Hines, Jason Washburn and David Foster still on the Utah roster. Brown has maintained a friendship with Hines. They talk to each other about every two weeks.
"I wish him the best and the rest of their team as well," Brown said.
Hines acknowledged it'll be kind of strange to play against his former teammate in the Huntsman Center. But at the same time, he continued, it's going to be exciting.
"It is weird. I thought when he left I was going to watch him on TV or something — not to be here with him and playing against him," Hines said before joking about a possible matchup Saturday. "He's 6-5. He's got a fat head. I don't know if I can hang with him in the post, but probably out on the perimeter."
In seriousness, though, Hines had kind things to say about Brown.
"When he was here he loved the University of Utah," Hines said. "He played hard every game."
Aside from "just a couple of situations with maybe the staff" that weren't "so cool," Hines thought Brown enjoyed his time at Utah.
Krystkowiak, thus, doesn't expect Brown's homecoming, of sorts, to be a big distraction Saturday.
"We're not talking about it much. We didn't have a whole lot to do with it," Krystkowiak said. "That's kind of water under the bridge. It's more about right now for us. It probably is the same for him."
Utes on the air
Colorado (17-8, 9-4) at Utah (5-20, 2-11)
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