Ex-Ute basketball coach Jim Boylen still wonders what could have been

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 4:12 p.m. MST

Utah's #45 Morgan Grim fights to get at the pass with CSU's #13 Andre McFarland in the last home game of the season on the hill as Utah takes on Colorado State March 4, 2008 Photo by Scott G. Winterton / Deseret News.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — If things had gone according to plan, the Utah basketball team would be competing favorably in the Pac-12 right now under fifth-year coach Jim Boylen.

Junior Marshall Henderson and senior Jordan Cyphers would be raining down 3-pointers on opponents from their wing positions. Senior Jace Tavita would be directing the Ute offense, while playing tough defense with freshman Preston Guiot backing him up, getting valuable minutes off the bench. Senior David Foster would be playing his third year as starter, splitting time in the middle with Jason Washburn, alongside forwards J.J. O'Brien and Shawn Glover, while Chris Hines would be a solid sparkplug off the bench along with Josh Sharp, just back from his LDS Church mission.

But things didn't go according to Boylen's plan — not even close — as Boylen was fired just two years after taking his team to the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, of the 10 aforementioned players, only Washburn and Hines are playing for the Utes this year and happen to be the two most consistent players on an inconsistent, undermanned team that is 6-22 heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

Foster is sitting out the year with a foot injury, while the other seven players didn't work out as expected and have transferred out of the program, some on their own and some who were urged to leave. Four are playing this season, two at lower-division colleges, while three players are sitting out as redshirts at Division I schools a step or two below the Pac-12.

They are spread out from Hawaii to Southern California to Texas to Tennessee.

Henderson is playing at a junior college in west Texas, Cyphers is a backup at Tennessee State, Guiot is starting for his father's team at Southwest Baptist and Sharp is getting limited minutes at BYU.

O'Brien is sitting out at San Diego State, not far from where he grew up, Tavita is waiting to play his senior year at Hawaii and Glover is sitting out at Oral Roberts.

Those aren't the only players that have left the Ute program. Last year, a bunch of JC players were brought in to plug holes, including Will Clyburn, Josh Watkins, Chris Kupets and Antonio DiMaria.

None of them are still with the Ute program, nor is Dominique Lee, who was a freshman redshirt.

Clyburn went back to Iowa to play his final year at Iowa State, Kupets and DiMaria transferred to NAIA schools, Lee went to a junior college, while Watkins is still at the U., working on finishing up his classes so he can graduate this summer.

That's 12 players who played for two seasons or less for the Utes and are no longer there.

As for Boylen, he ended up with the Indiana Pacers as an assistant coach, where he's finding success coaching Indiana's big men as the Pacers are 22-12 after Tuesday night's victory over Golden State.

From Indiana, Boylen said that he hasn't followed the Utes closely this year because of the "grinding" NBA schedule and didn't even know what Utah's record was, although he knows they were struggling. He hides any bitterness he may have over being let go after four seasons and matter-of-factly talked about what might have been.

"I really felt I had a pretty good team in place," he said. "We had kind of gotten through two rough years and I thought we could be really competitive in the Pac-12 this year."

Boylen was happy to hear that Hines, who was his very first recruit at Utah, is having a pretty good season and made the game-winning shot against Stanford last weekend.

"We did some good things there," Boylen said. "We won a championship and graduated our guys. I felt I represented the university well and did things the right way. Those things are forgotten when you get fired."

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