Tuesday's news that sophomore guards David Jackson and Jordie McTav-ish won't be returning to the University of Utah basketball team next year was a shock to some but no surprise to others.
Those close to the U. program were aware that Jackson and McTavish weren't all that happy even while playing for a team that ended up in the NCAA championship game.Jackson had struggled almost from the day he arrived at Utah from Portland, Ore. He found it difficult to adapt to the defensive, slower style that coach Rick Majerus employs, and he reportedly took criticism harder than his teammates. He seriously considered transferring after his freshman season because of a lack of playing time.
McTavish's departure was more a case of being nudged out the door. McTavish has been frustrated playing behind Andre Miller for two years, despite the fact that Miller emerged as one of the top point guards in the country this year.
Utah coaches were also frustrated by McTavish's defensive liabilities, which had a lot to do with his slight frame. When he signed McTavish, Majerus envisioned him turning out like another Canadian player, Steve Nash, who starred for Santa Clara and now plays for the Phoenix Suns.
But McTavish, though listed as 6-foot, 169 pounds, played a lot smaller, particularly on defense, where his limitations were more noticeable. He was a deadly outside shooter but didn't have anything close to the inside game or passing ability of Miller.
"It would have been difficult for him to play here," said Majerus. "He has better opportunities to play elsewhere. I wish him nothing but the best."
Jackson emphasized that he wasn't forced to leave and said he didn't have a problem with his coach. He said it was a desire to play for a more up-tempo offense geared toward his style of play.
"I like to get out on the open floor - that's more my game," said Jackson. "Here, we were trying to slow it down, and I wasn't being called upon to do the things I can do."
Jackson said he is looking at transferring to a Pac-10 school, perhaps Oregon or Washington. He had considered Arizona, where he almost went out of high school, but he said coach Lute Olson told him he had already used up his scholarships for next year.
The fact that a couple of players with remaining eligibility are leaving is nothing new for the Ute program. During the nine years Majerus has been the Ute coach, an average of two players per year have left the U. program.
Last year it was Ashante Johnson and Will Carlton. The year before it was Terry Preston, Ben Melmeth and Andy Jensen. Starting guard Jimmy Carroll transferred to Nevada the year before that. In previous years, the likes of Tyrone Tate, Jason Jackman and Thomas Wyatt have transferred before their eligibility was up.
Majerus isn't too concerned that about 20 players have left the Ute program during his tenure. He said some players leave because they want to be the star elsewhere, while others never adapt to the Utah style of basketball. If a player isn't likely to play much, Majerus says he gives that player the option to transfer to another school.
For the 1998-99 season, the Utes will return just five or six players from this year's team. Expected to return are starting forwards Alex Jensen and Hanno Mottola, center Nate Althoff, forward Greg Barratt and point guard Adam Sharp, with Miller a possibility if he doesn't decide to turn pro (see accompanying story).
The Utes have already signed six players to letters of intent and Majerus said one or two others could still sign later this month.