The season is less than a month old, but Utah basketball fans are already noticing a different Lawrence Borha out on the court.
And we're not just talking about the new short hair style that replaces the braids the junior from New York wore during his first two years.
This year Borha is playing tough defense, avoiding silly mistakes and sinking shots from all over the floor to the tune of 68 percent. He's an important piece for coach Jim Boylen's Utes, who play Weber State tonight (7 p.m.) at the Dee Events Center.
"New look, new coach, new system, new everything," said Borha, a polite young man with an easy smile. "Things are good. I'm confident out there. I just go out there and play and I'm playing without a worry. Coach Boylen has confidence in me, and I have confidence in my game to do what I can to help the team win."
Boylen is thrilled with the changes Borha has made over the past few months. Borha was never a troublemaker or anything, but his lack of discipline affected him both on and off the court.
"He's improved his off-the-court discipline and it's carried over onto the court," Boylen said. "I challenged him to be a more efficient player less turnovers, finish more plays, understand the game better and play harder for longer stretches. To say he's bought into what we're doing and the direction we're going is an understatement. He's very coachable."
Borha, known as LB by his teammates and coaches, was an outstanding scorer in high school, averaging 31 points in Staten Island, N.Y., before going to Stoneridge Prep School in Moorpark, Calif., where he averaged 29 points, 6 rebounds and 7.5 assists.
After coming to Utah in 2005, Borha would show flashes of his ability, but fans remembered him more for the unforced turnovers, untimely fouls and missed layups. He started 23 games the last two years but averaged just 4.9 points and had a poor assist-to-turnover ratio.
When Boylen came in last spring, he insisted on changes for Borha.
He told him to cut his hair and to shave every day among other things.
"His punctuality, his schoolwork, his appearance, his manners, his people skills when I got here, I asked him to improve all those things," Boylen said. "When he cut his hair I told him 'you're a handsome guy and no one ever knew it."'
Boylen felt a more disciplined lifestyle for Borha would translate into better play on the court.
"Last year, he missed layups, he missed assignments, he'd make careless passes and lose his man defensively," Boylen said. "I told him I thought he could be a defensive stopper, a guy that makes open shots and that could develop other parts of his game. But he couldn't develop them until he became a more disciplined guy."
The numbers so far this season show how much improved Borha is. A 39.7 career shooter, Borha is shooting 68.4 percent from the field, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range. After a negative assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.3-1.7 the last two years, he has just two turnovers and five assists in four games this season.
"I don't do a lot of the stupid things I used to do on the court," Borha said. "Coach Boylen has helped me a lot. I think I was less disciplined because I wasn't confident in my game and I tried to do extra, so I made some dumb mistakes."
"I feel good about where he's at," Boylen said. "He has a big upside and he's got great potential to be a winning player. My goal for him is that he gets better and better as the year goes on and next year we have a starting wing who's a very good player."GAME NOTES: Like Utah, Weber State is 2-2 and hasn't played a game since Nov. 19 ... Weber State coach Randy Rahe was an assistant coach at Utah for two seasons (2004-06) ... Ute forward Stephen Weigh is doubtful, and freshman Carlon Brown would start in his place ... Utah has won six straight over the Wildcats, whose last win came in 2000 at Salt Lake 79-77. The Wildcats' last victory in Ogden came in 1999, 84-72 ... After tonight's game, the Utes play at home Saturday at noon against Cal Irvine, while the Wildcats go on the road and face Illinois Saturday.
Lawrence Borha by the numbers
FG% ... 3-pt% ... Ast ... TO ... PPG
Career ... 39.7 ... 26.7 ... 1.3 ... 1.7 ... 4.3
2007-08 ... 68.4 ... 70.0 ... 1.3 ... 0.5 ... 10.8