Growing old gracefully is a term not reserved for elderly college basketball players - at least that's the way things appeared from a spectator's standpoint Friday night as past players from both Utah and BYU competed in the first annual Legends game at the Huntsman Center.
Utah won the contest 113-103 as Pace Mannion and Jeff Judkins combined for 54 Utah points.The game, which was held to raise money for the Utah Youth Village, drew past greats like Tom Chambers, Greg Kite, Jeff Jonas and Russell Larsen. Those who were on hand to watch can attest to one thing - Father Time hasn't been very nice.
Larger waistlines dominated, while bald spots outshined the Huntsman lights. The smell of Ben-gay polluted the air and bags of ice were stockpiled to cure any aching backs, knees or other inflamed joints.
The years sure haven't been kind. To most players, anyway.
Jimmy Soto still can't get into an R-rated movie without getting hassled by a teenage usher to see an ID. He still even shops at GAP Kids. Okay, so that part may not be true, but he could.
You see, Soto left the University of Utah in 1993 and fans are still waiting for the baby-faced point guard to grow up.
"He's even smaller than I remember," one fan was heard to say to a buddy in the stands when the players were warming up before tip-off. "I remember him being small, but not that small."
At 5'9" and 150 pounds (soaking wet) Soto always seemed to earn a special place in the heart of Utah basketball fans. The tiny, yet bulldog-ish guard was one of most intense players to ever pull on a crimson and white jersey. His hands were a magnet for loose balls and he slid across the Huntsman hardwood more often than an electric sander.
Fans loved the fact that he hustled for 40 minutes a night and never grew tired. Fans got a kick out of watching a man, or boy as most still call him, half the size of everyone on the floor dominate. In fact, Rick Majerus once said that Soto's size, "was the only thing keeping him from being an All-American."
So you can understand why, when the players for both Utah and BYU were announced, Soto's ovation was the loudest.
"The people here were always great to me, which is why I wanted to come back and play in this game," said Soto. "It brought back a lot of good memories."
Soto was Utah's iron man during his four years. Majerus routinely played Soto 36 to 38 minutes a night without a thought that his floor general would grow winded and ineffective. Soto was one of the best conditioned athletes to ever streak up and down a court, and he never slowed down.
"I always went my hardest because I had to," said Soto. "The best way for me to get shots was to outrun people. I couldn't really post up or go inside to much, so I ran."
It makes you wonder what happened.
Utah coach Jerry Pimm didn't play Soto until the start of the second quarter. No more than four minutes in, Soto was gassed.
"I'm nowhere near good enough shape to play a whole game now," said Soto. "I don't hardly play anymore."
Soto spent three years playing pro ball overseas, two in Mexico and one in Puerto Rico, but gave up the sport to settle down here with his wife Brooke.
"I grew up in Salt Lake and wanted to make my home here," said Soto.
While many are still waiting for Soto to grow up and even comment on his youthful complexion, Soto doesn't mind.
Afterall, he could look like the rest of the Legends.