SALT LAKE CITY — A lot of things changed while Jeremy Olsen was serving an LDS Church mission in England. The University of Utah basketball program he took a hiatus from had undergone a major facelift. Alterations included a new coach, a different conference and a revamped roster.
Olsen, a 6-foot-10, 228-pound forward who redshirted in 2009-10, heard about the changes from his parents. The firing of head coach Jim Boylen made things a bit stressful. It had Olsen thinking about stuff he didn’t necessarily want to while on his mission.
Several questions like — “What’s going to happen?” and “What am I going back to?” — were on his mind.
Everything settled, however, when new coach Larry Krystkowiak sent Olsen an email and let him know they still wanted him in the program. Krystkowiak spoke with Olsen’s parents as well, alleviating their concerns about the situation.
All was well.
“I still felt Utah was the place for me,” Olsen said. “I committed to come here for the long haul through the thick and thin and I wanted to be here to help build this thing back up to where it used to be.”
As his freshman season progresses, the former Georgia prep star and 4.0 student has no regrets about rejoining the Utes.
“I love Coach K. He’s a great coach. I really like his system and I like the team as well here,” Olsen said. “It definitely proved to be the right choice — as I knew it would be.”
The feeling is mutual. Krystkowiak noted that Olsen is making strides while regaining his pre-mission conditioning. Hip surgery and a bulging disc in his back put Olsen behind the curve, as did adjusting to a new system and coaching staff.
Opportunities have accompanied the progress. The recent decision to give sophomore center Dallin Bachynski a break from “active competition” led to Olsen logging 21 minutes last Sunday against Stanford. He finished with five points and four rebounds.
“I feel pretty confident now. I feel more confident every day,” said Olsen, who is averaging 2.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. “I feel the best I’ve felt since I’ve been home from my mission. That’s for sure.”
Krystkowiak noted that Olsen is doing a nice job in practice and has been real solid. Olsen, he continued, is kind of an old-school post player who won’t wow anybody with his athleticism or anything.
“But he’s got a good knack with post moves down there and he’s gaining confidence, it seems like, each day,” Krystkowiak said.
Teammate Jason Washburn agrees. Utah’s starting center said Olsen might be the team’s most skilled post player with his back to the basket. Olsen’s ability to use both hands equally, he explained, is a powerful weapon to have down in the block.
“He’s very smart, very skilled, very intelligent,” Washburn said. “He’s got a lot of upside. He’s got a lot of good days ahead of him.”
Washburn added that Olsen is a willing learner who has no problem working hard.
“He’s got all the ingredients to be really, really good,” Washburn said. “Especially with a coach like Coach K who is very good at developing big men — as I can testify to.”
Olsen also has an inquisitive nature. Washburn and David Foster, lone holdovers from Olsen’s redshirt season, used to joke about it while awaiting their friend’s return from missionary service.
“J.O. and his million questions are coming home,” Washburn recalled saying to Foster.
It’s all been good, according to Olsen, even though getting his wind back and adjusting to the speed of college basketball has required patience. In England, he noted, everyone wanted to play soccer. There wasn’t a lot of basketball.
Olsen, thus, has worked hard to get back into the swing of things. He’s determined to always be ready when called upon.
It’s part of the big picture when it comes to Olsen.
“I think it speaks volumes for J.O. and his commitment to come here and come back to the situation he started with,” Krystkowiak said. “I think it’s going to have a great ending here before too long.”
Olsen is confident the program will turn things around by the time he graduates.
“I want to go back to the NCAA Tournament. That would be, I guess, my biggest goal and then win a Pac-12 title,” Olsen said. “Within four years, I think that’s a good goal to have. If you’re not shooting for the stars then you’re not getting better. That’s for sure."