SALT LAKE CITY — One of the bright spots in a disappointing Utah 2009-10 basketball season was the play of David Foster, who earned Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year honors after averaging 4.0 blocks per game.
However, this season Foster has been plagued by tendinitis in his left knee, which has caused him to miss most of fall practice. He practiced for the first time in a couple of weeks Monday and is expected to see action for Friday's opener against Grand Canyon.
With Foster out, a heavier burden has fallen on 7-foot sophomore center Jason Washburn, who knows what Foster is going through since Washburn sat out most of last year's preseason camp with a knee injury.
"I'm in pretty good shape and getting in a lot of reps," said Washburn. "It's a big difference from last year when I missed the whole preseason."
Washburn, who redshirted two years ago after coming to Utah from Michigan, said he's put 10 to 12 pounds on his skinny frame and now checks in at 230 pounds.
"I feel more prepared for the season and am not wondering how I'm going to perform," he said. "I've been improving my low post moves — I can go left and right pretty well now."
Washburn feels the team has better chemistry than last year already, even though there are nine new players.
"I can't make any predictions, but I can say I feel better going into this year than last year," he said. "This year people just want to win no matter what it takes. The new players are melding well. They all fit into the system, they all buy in and work hard."
WINNING AT HOME: The Utes will be looking to win their home opener for a change when they take on Grand Canyon University of Phoenix in their first official game of 2010-11 Friday night at the Huntsman Center.
It used to be that the Utes never lost home openers, or many games at home for that matter. But Utah has lost three of its last four home openers to teams it was favored to beat.
Last year, Idaho knocked off the Utes and the year before that it was Southwest Baptist that shocked them. The Utes won in 2007, but lost in 2006 to Southern Utah in what turned out to be Ray Giacoletti's final year.
After losing eight home games last year, one of coach Jim Boylen's goals this year is "not to lose any home games."
Starting Friday night.
UTE NOTES: Last Friday's 84-74 win over Adams State wasn't an official game. Still Boylen was pleased that his team had 47 rebounds, the third-highest total in Boylen's three-plus seasons and 19 offensive boards, which is the highest total. ... Boylen wondered when the last time the Utes had two players combine for 50 points or even had two players in the 20s as JC transfers Will Clyburn and Josh Watkins did after scoring 28 and 22, respectively. The answer is it happened at Colorado State in 2009, when Tyler Kepkay scored 27 and Luke Nevill had 23 in a 89-79 overtime victory. ... Grand Canyon has played two exhibition games against familiar Ute foes. The Antelopes lost to Utah State 76-46 and to UNLV 90-66. ... After Friday night's game, the Utes have two home games next week against Montana on Wednesday and Weber State on Saturday.