Growing up in Canada, Tyler Kepkay never expected to be a Division I college basketball player.
He boxed and played hockey and became a very good high school basketball player. However, he never played on one of those traveling AAU teams and never had college recruiters beating down his door.
He figured he would find a small college in Canada to continue his basketball career.
Two and a half years after graduating from high school, Kepkay is not only playing for the University of Utah basketball team, he's already earned a starting spot. He had a strong debut last week against South Carolina Upstate, scoring 10 points, handing out six assists and grabbing five rebounds in the Ute victory.
Although he has sat out of practice since spraining an ankle in the Friday opener, he is looking forward to playing a couple of games this week near his hometown of Vancouver, B.C. The Utes are playing in the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament in Seattle with a game tonight (6 p.m. MST) against High Point (N.C.) and another Wednesday night.
"It'll be fun to go up there and play in front of my dad and mom," Kepkay said. "I'll definitely have friends and family coming to the games."
It's quite remarkable how Kepkay ended up in Utah in the first place. If you ask him he'll tell you, "I honestly don't know."
He knows how he got to the University of Utah, which had to get not one but two commitments from him earlier this year to beat out several other Division I schools.
Before that, however, it was a phone call out of the blue from the College of Eastern Utah in Price that brought Kepkay to play basketball in the United States.
"I never really did know how good I was because I never played against guys that were going to big D-1 schools," he said. "I just stayed at home and played at the rec center. Out of nowhere I got a call."
Kepkay ended up at CEU because of some connections between the former Utah coaching staff and Canada Basketball, the governing body for Canadian basketball.
"We all knew a guy in Canada, and he called us about a guard," said Ute assistant coach Chris Jones, who was also a member of the former staff. "We watched some film of Tyler and said he's not ready yet, but he has a chance. So we called Brock Erickson (an assistant at College of Eastern Utah) and told him about Tyler."
It turns out CEU was looking for a guard, and soon Kepkay was on his way to Price, Utah.
The Utes kept their eye on him in 2005-06 and considered signing him after his first year. Then last year when Kepkay had his big season, leading the nation in scoring at nearly 28 points a game, the Utes corralled a commitment in January.
"We followed his progress and felt he was a big missing ingredient of what our team needed a pure point guard," said Jones. "He had toughness, competitiveness and he wanted to be a player."
Although he had committed to Utah, Kepkay reconsidered his options after the firing of Ray Giacoletti and made visits to St. John's, San Diego State and Duquesne and had almost dropped Utah from his list.
Then last March, the day after coach Jim Boylen was hired at Utah, Jones told him about Kepkay and how much the Utes needed him.
Boylen said, "Let's go," and five minutes later he and Jones were driving to Price.
"He was disenchanted about the coaching change and not excited about going through the recruiting process again," said Boylen. "But we hit it off right away. We made him a priority. It was a three-week process, but it seemed like a year."
Kepkay signed with Utah in April and hasn't looked back.
"It has worked out for me," said Kepkay. "I feel right at home.
The biggest difference (in Division I) is the focus and coming ready to play every day."
Although he is a point guard, Kepkay can score, as evidenced by his 27.9 average last year and his 46.4 3-point shooting percentage.
However, the Utes want him to be run the Ute offense and be a leader and not necessarily a scorer.
"He's really been making strides and is getting a lot better feel for the system," Boylen said. "I'm glad he's here, and I think he'll help us win a lot of games."UTE NOTES: The Utes took off for Seattle Monday afternoon after practice ... Games today and Wednesday will be played at the 10,000-seat Bank of America Arena ... The Utes have a 3-0 record against High Point, including an 80-44 win in 2005 ... High Point is led by senior forward Arizona Reid, who averaged 21.0 points and 9.5 rebounds last year and had 26 points and 11 rebounds against Charlotte on Friday ... The Utes will face the winner or loser of the Washington-New Jersey Institute of Technology game Wednesday night ... After this trip, the Utes' next game will be Monday at home against Santa Clara.
Name: Tyler Kepkay
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Favorite player: Steve NashOf note: Led nation's junior colleges in scoring at 27.9 ppg last year ... Shot 46.4 percent from 3-point range and 88.1 percent from the free-throw line ... Had 10 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in his Utah debut last week.
Utes on the air
Utah (1-0) vs. High Point (0-1)
Today, 6 p.m.
Bank of America Arena
TV: NoneRadio: 700AM
E-mail: [email protected]