When the score was 3-3, Utah coach Jim Boylen spread his arms wide and moved his feet, guarding an imaginary opponent. When Johnnie Bryant made his fifth 3-pointer, the coach leaped and pumped his fist. When Tyler Kepkay scored as the game wore on, Boylen shot both hands in the air with excitement, as though witnessing a birth.
Maybe he was.
Boylen coached the daylights out of his first Mountain West Conference game Saturday and, by early indications, it's going to be a pleasant run for him. His team rode Bryant's six 3-pointers to a 58-36 win over Air Force.
Which, of course, wasn't lost on Boylen, who became emotional at the thought of coaching in his first league game.
"Oh, man, unbelievable day. You know, I'm so thankful to be at Utah, and to be part of this community," he said, eyes misting. He added, with a catch in his voice, "Big day."
Of course, when you coach the way Boylen does nearly playing the games himself there are a lot of big days. The day he got the job. The day he met his team. The day he walked around the concourses and looked at the mementos of years past. The day he ate Cheerios for breakfast.
For Boylen, waking up constitutes a big day.
This, of course, doesn't mean he's phony. The man's as genuine as a Louisville Slugger. He thinks the Utah job is a treasure, and who's to question his sincerity? Go ahead and ask him about the school's history. He can recite chapter and verse, from Arnie Ferrin to Andre Miller to Luke Nevill and back.
Thus, when asked if he feels the weight of Utah's basketball history bearing down on him, he says, without even a hint of insincerity, "Yeah, I do. I have great respect for what has been accomplished here, the players that have been here ... I have a lot of respect for the game. It's given me a lot. So yeah, it's a big year for me."
Then he launches into a recitation of the Ute greats, naming them as fast as they come to mind. First, he notes that in 1979, Magic Johnson played in the national championship game at the Huntsman Center. Then he starts naming Utes.
"You walk these halls and you see Danny Vranes and Keith Van Horn and Manny Hendrix tough guys that were great players, and I'm hoping we can get some more tough guys and players from out of here," he said.
If Boylen sounds a bit philosophical even sentimental he couldn't be blamed. It was a heck of a year to land the job, after two decades as an assistant coach in the NBA and at Michigan State. This season marks the 100th anniversary of Utah basketball. On Dec. 10, 1908, Erastus J. Milne launched what would eventually become the nation's 10th-winningest basketball program. Utah faced the Salt Lake YMCA in that first game and lost.
It's safe to say things have improved in the last century. Saturday's win gave the Utes a 9-4 record.
Along the way, there were a lot of successful coaches. Vadal Peterson got things rolling, winning 63 percent of his games over 26 years. Jack Gardner, Bill Foster and Jerry Pimm each advanced the program and won championships. Rick Majerus surprised everyone by staying 14 seasons and winning 77 percent of his games.
Not a bad history for a school that struggled to beat Salt Lake High back in the winter of '09.
But on Saturday, it 'wasn't the YMCA or good ol' S.L. High, but rather Air Force a team that beat the Utes by 26 last time they met. Though it took Utah eight minutes to score its first field goal, that didn't dismay Boylen in the least. He was thinking positive thoughts. Not only did he have a 7-foot center, four days-worth of preparation, a home crowd, a red-hot backup guard and a nice, red necktie, too.He also had a hundred years of grand tradition watching his back.
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