University of Utah Coach Lynn Archibald will welcome what could turn out to be the best basketball team he's had in his five years as head coach when the Utes open practice Saturday in the Huntsman Center.

The Utes posed for pictures Wednesday on Picture Day, but under NCAA rules aren't allowed to begin practice until Saturday.The reason for the Ute optimism is the return of veteran players such as Mitch Smith, Watkins Singletary, Jimmy Madison and Keith Champman along with the addition of heralded newcomers such as JC transfers Mark Lenoir and Van Gray, Boise State transfer Billy Perkins, Proposition 48 victim Walter Watts and Josh Grant, who just returned from an LDS mission.

"We have more depth with the added players we have," said Archibald. "We'll be stronger inside with Watts and stronger outside with Grant, Lenoir Gray and Perkins."

Two names missing from the Ute roster are last year's starting point guard Tommy Connor and Michael Bullock, who transferred from Salt Lake Community College.

Connor underwent back surgery this fall to correct a congenital problem in his lower back, while Bullock still needs to graduate from SLCC before becoming eligible. While Connor is a definite redshirt, Bullock could join the team by late December if he graduates.

Archibald's biggest worry right now is getting everybody healthy. Besides Connor, four other players have undergone surgery this fall.

Three players, Madison, Singletary and Justin Brooks, have undergone knee surgery in recent weeks. And just last weekend, Lenoir had surgery after suffering appendicitis.

The Utes will open the season in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage Nov. 25 against Seton Hall of the Big East. Other teams in the tourney include defending national champion Kansas, Kentucky and Florida. Later in the season, Utah meets Purdue on the road and Michigan will play in the Utah Classic in late December.

The "Night with the Runnin' Utes will be Nov. 9 and the Utes will play a foreign team Nov. 15. The first official home game is Dec. 1 against Cal State- Fullerton.