The Utah basketball team could be another top 25 team, picking right up where it left off this year. Or it could be a skeleton of this year's team, which finished second in the nation after losing to Kentucky in Monday night's NCAA title game.
It just depends on what several of the Utes' top players with eligibility left decide to do.The key is point guard Andre Miller and whether to play one more year next year or declare himself for the NBA draft.
Miller, arguably the Utes' MVP this year, supposedly wasn't going to make up his mind about coming out for the NBA draft until sitting down with his coach early this month. However, he publicly declared to a Ute pep rally Sunday that he would be back and reiterated that claim after Monday's loss, a little less forcefully.
When asked if he would return next year, Miller replied, "I guess so. Where else am I going to go?" Majerus said he will sit down with Miller in the next couple of weeks to discuss the pros and cons of coming out in the draft. Majerus has said all along a player's worth is based on what he has done lately. On that theory, Miller's stock should be sky-high after his sterling NCAA tournament performance, although it may not be quite so high after a so-so performance in the title game.
If Miller returns, the Utes should be a top 25 team right from the start. David Jackson could move into the other guard spot vacated by Drew Hansen and the Utes may sign a couple of wing players, perhaps even a JC player, which they rarely get.
Without Miller, the point guard duties would logically fall to Jordie McTavish, Miller's backup for the past two years, while Adam Sharp, a returned missionary who redshirted this year, could see time. McTavish is good, but doesn't have nearly the same impact as Miller.
Up front, Alex Jensen and Hanno Mottola will return at the starting forward spots, although there is an outside chance the big Finn could return to Europe to chase big money there. However, Mottola has always said his dream is to play in the NBA, and his chances of achieving that dream are much better if he progresses through the college ranks.
Britton Johnsen, who came on strong in the postseason to help the Utes, has been vacillating over a decision to go on an LDS mission and is believed to be leaning toward going. However, if he stayed home to increase his future pro prospects, he would be a huge factor for the Utes in '98-'99. Perhaps Mottola could even play center on a front line with Johnsen and Jensen.
Otherwise, the Utes will be searching to find a replacement for Michael Doleac and that won't be easy. Nate Althoff, a 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman, played sparingly this year and needs to improve his skills to be a starting center for a national-caliber team.
The Utes are bringing in two big freshmen - 6-9 Phil Cullen from Chalen, Wash., and Tyson Johnston, a 6-10 center out of Steamboat Springs, Colo. - but it's unlikely either would be ready to move into a starting spot right off the bat.
The Utes have also signed 6-2 Ben Huesser out of Preston, Idaho, and 6-6 Brad Crockett from Viewmont High School. Another squadman back is forward Greg Barratt, who played sparingly toward the end of the season.
The national signing period begins in two weeks, and the Utes may be signing a few players, depending on the decisions of the potential missionaries and Miller and Mottola.