Ex-Ute basketball coach Jim Boylen still wonders what could have been
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."
Boylen said he was dismayed when he heard rumors that he tried to talk his former players into leaving Utah. He was adamant that it never happened as Washburn said in a Deseret News article last month.
He felt Utah would have been a pretty good team if everybody had come back, but the truth is, of the eight players who left the program after last year, perhaps two were Pac-12-caliber players, Clyburn and O'Brien. Both would have started and perhaps been key components as wing players.
However, Clyburn pretty much had his mind made up to transfer from the day Boylen was fired and he went back to Iowa, where he had played junior college ball and signed with Iowa State. He had been promised he could redshirt his first year at Utah, but was forced to play because he was the best player on the team.
O'Brien vacillated for a few weeks last spring before deciding to head back to Southern California and play for San Diego State.
When the other half dozen decided to leave, the new Ute coaches didn't get in their way, but it left them scrambling for replacements long after letter-of-intent day.
Boylen acknowledged he might have made some mistakes in his recruiting, but didn't think it was his main problem.
"Obviously you'd like everybody to have success and that doesn't always happen," he said. "All over the country you see guys leaving and moving on. That's part of the process, sifting through. It's not just a problem at Utah, it happens everywhere."
Boylen just wishes he could have had one more year with his guys in what has turned out to be a weak Pac-12 Conference this year.
"I thought we had turned the corner," Boylen said. "I thought one more year and see where that goes. But that's not what happened so you move on."
Where are they now ...
Here's a look at the recruits of coach Jim Boylen and where they ended up.
At Utah: Was actually recruited by Ray Giacoletti, and started his first two years at Utah. Was asked to fill a sixth-man role as a junior, but was still the Utes' leading scorer at 12.5 points per game.
Now: After sitting out a year, Brown is a key player for the Buffaloes in their first year in the Pac-12. He leads his team with an 11.9 average.
At Utah: After being the 5A player of the year at Riverton High, Grim played sparingly in his first two seasons at Utah and transferred 90 miles north to Utah State.
Now: After playing as a reserve last year, Grim earned a starting role this year and averages 8.8 points and 6.6 rebounds for a mediocre Aggie team.
At Utah: After leading the nation in scoring at College of Eastern Utah, the sharp-shooting guard played two years for Utah as a starter, averaging 10.3 points as a senior.
Now: Has played professional basketball in Germany the past two years.
At Utah: He was Boylen's first recruit, committing a month after the former Ute coach was hired, out of Houston. Hines redshirted as a freshman, but after nearly leaving the program after the 2009-10 season, has developed into a starter and has been the team's most consistent 3-point shooter this year.
At Utah: The former player of the year at Kansas, was benched midway through his sophomore season, when he averaged 2.9 ppg on 32.5 field goal shooting.
Now: At Tennessee State, he started 6 of 28 games this year and averages 8.1 points per game, shooting 38.9 from field.
At Utah: Earned the starting point guard spot, but was known more for his defense than his scoring ability. Only averaged 1.4 points on 29.1 shooting as a sophomore when he started 19 games. Left the program after just five games of his junior season.
Now: Sitting out this season at the University of Hawaii.
At Utah: Redshirted for one year before leaving on an LDS Church mission.
Now: Following his mission, Sharp decided he wanted to play at BYU, which welcomed him into the program. However he has only averaged 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in 25 games.
At Utah: Started 30 games as a freshman and averaged 11.8 points per game, second on the team, but had off-the-court issues.
Now: After redshirting at Texas Tech and leaving the program, Henderson ended up 25 miles west of Lubbock at South Plains College, where he leads the top-ranked NJCAA team in the nation with a 19.3 scoring average, including 42.5 from 3-point range.
At Utah: The slender forward started 13 games as a freshman (3.4 ppg) and 22 as a sophomore (6.2 ppg).
Now: Sitting out at Oral Roberts.
At Utah: The JC transfer played two years, but was plagued by injuries, missing eight games as a junior and the final 17 games of his senior year.
At Utah: Sat out as a redshirt in 2009-10.
Now: Is serving an LDS mission in England and is expected to play for Utah next fall.
At Utah: Played in just 16 games and averaged 1.8 points in 6.7 minutes per game.
Now: Is through with college basketball after playing for Lubbock Christian, where he started all 29 games and averaged 11.9 points and a team-high 6.1 rebounds.
At Utah: Was the team's leading scorer (17.1 ppg), rebounder (7.8 rpg) and 3-point shooter (40.3 percent).
Now: Sitting out as a redshirt at Iowa State.
At Utah: An injury sidelined him for the first month of the season, but after missing nine games, he started 21 games and averaged 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Now: Is sitting out at San Diego State.
At Utah: Played every game and averaged 7.4 points per game on 38.8 percent shooting.
Now: Is the second-leading scorer at Vanguard University, an NAIA school in Orange County, Calif., with a 14.3 average.
At Utah: After transferring from Casper Community College, he rarely played for the Utes, averaging 6.6 minutes in 26 games and scoring 29 points all season.
Now: Plays for Emporia State, an NAIA school in Kansas, where his is the fifth leading scorer at 7.9 points per game.
At Utah: Sat out as a redshirt.
Now: Started 22 of 23 games for Southwest Baptist in Missouri, where his father, Jeff, is the head coach. He averages 13.1 points, second best on the team, and leads team with 5.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
At Utah: After playing high school ball in Oakland, he sat out as a redshirt in 2010-11.
Now: He transferred to Casper Community College, where his brother plays, but had to sit out the first semester. He averages 6.5 points in a reserve role.
At Utah: Started in 2010-11 after leading his junior college team to the NJCAA title and was the Utes' leading scorer this year before getting dismissed from the team.
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