It is, apparently, a time of wonderment for the state's university basketball coaches. When they gathered Tuesday for the annual Big Five tipoff meeting, they raised more questions than they answered with four teams opening their seasons Saturday.
Only Neil Roberts, in his third season at Southern Utah University and with a team voted between third and fifth in the nation among all independents, seemed somewhat certain of things.And even he wasn't sure who will replace Kelvin Lee at point guard. It could be his son, Rick Roberts, or it could be Layton's Rod Dixon. "There are times right now I couldn't pick," said Roberts, pronouncing the two complete opposites in style.
BYU Coach Roger Reid, whose team has already played one regular-season game and who has the recruiting coup of the state in Shawn Bradley, said, "I don't know what to expect." He has three players he'd like to redshirt but has waited due to uncertainty.
Utah's Rick Majerus was the most adamant about being in the dark: "We have a team I don't have a handle on, nor do they have a handle on themselves."
His players have so many styles, "It's not conducive to being on the same page," he said. Add injuries - that Majerus and assistant Jeff Judkins have played in practices. "We'reactually further behind than last year," says Majerus, who misses graduated "cerebral" point guard Tommy Connor, who well understood objectives.
Up north, Utah State's Kohn Smith sees good defense in practice once in a while but fears it won't show up in games. "I don't think we play defense worth a darn. Not technically good defense," Smith said.
Still, in his third season, he has a veteran team with an exceptional newcomer, Iowa State transfer guard Jay Goodman. He's a shooter and ballhandler "who can make everyone on the team better - some players have that ability," Smith says. "He's one of the reasons we'll be a little better team."
And at Weber, Denny Huston said he's read all the national publications like any fan, and he can't see why BYU isn't picked higher with Bradley ("he's going to change the game," Huston said), why Utah isn't given credit because Majerus can coach the Utes to play well and why Utah State isn't considered up there with the tops in the Big West Conference that boasts 1990 NCAA champion UNLV.
Weber? Oh, well, says Huston, the Wildcats are picked anywhere from third to sixth in the Big Sky. "That's probably high," he said, going for the sympathy vote.
Weber State (14-15 overall, 8-8 Big Sky last year) - Huston's first year was all seniors left from the Larry Farmer era. "We played 'em all," said Huston, "and we're a year behind because of that." Last season, with new men, "We took our lumps. This year will be better," Huston said.
Important new people will be freshman backup point guard Robbie Johnson and strapping freshman forward Jimmy DeGraffenreid of Santaquin ("he really suprised me with his toughness," Huston says).
Weber hosts Prairie View A&M Saturday.
Utah State (12-16, 8-10 Big West) - With Smith already worried about defense, he looks at the schedule and sees BYU first off on Saturday at the Marriott Center. "You start with 7-foot-6," Smith said, meaning Bradley. "They're huge. I have no idea how we can defend the post, and I'm as serious as I can be. If we don't shoot well, uh . . . uh . . ."
Fortunately, shooting is the Aggies' strength in a league full of teams that can put it up with the Denver Nuggets. "It's a tough league," Huston says. "We're certain we can play with each of those teams," he adds.
Utah (16-14, 7-9 WAC) - Junior forward Josh Grant is Majerus' cranial captain this year. "He has a unique role; he's a stabilizing force," Majerus said. "He has the only understanding of what it is we want in certain situations."
Veteran Jimmy Soto "is anxiety-ridden," says Majerus, because he's bouncing between point and two-guard, which he's not used to. Tyrone Tate could play point, but, "We've got to get all the Chicago out of Tate," says Majerus, noting the sophomore dribbles behind his back and between his legs "all at one time."
Utah opens against Cal-Irvine at home Saturday.
Brigham Young (21-9, 11-5 WAC) - "I'm the only coach here today who's 0-1," said Reid. "I'm not smiling. Not very happy. When you're 0-1, there's a lot of (room for) improvement."
Leadership on a very young team is Reid's major concern. He's got players - Bradley, Ken Roberts - but directors? Consistency's his other worry, especially at guard. "We don't have a vision yet," Reid says, noting that players have yet to focus in on goals. "Our players don't know what to do. They haven't been there yet," Reid says.
Southern Utah (13-15) - Eight T-Birds, plus Roberts, are just back from barnstorming Europe, where they learned to handle some adversity from language problems, strange rules and travel. Half the team's old, half new. Leading scorer/rebounder William Allen's back as a senior, and two-time national independent player of the week Richard Barton is back as a junior. They're co-captains.
Roberts figures the T-Birds gained a national reputation by beating respected Xavier in Ohio early last season. When Southern Utah first went Division I three years ago, it was a patsy on other schedules, playing tough teams with young players who've now grown up.