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College Preview | Top 144 Previews | More Interviews

By Shawn Siegel

October 22nd, 2006


Utah Head Coach - Ray Giacoletti


Ray Giacoletti's first year at Utah was an astounding success, as the Utes went 29-6. Then again, he had Andrew Bogut to work with. Last year, Giacoletti came back to Earth with a middling 14-15 record. While the Utes would be hard-pressed to repeat the 04-05 success, fans would gladly take something in between.


Shawn Siegel (CHN): What should we expect to be the strengths and weaknesses of next year’s team? 


Ray Giacoletti (RG): I think Luke Nevill is going to be one of the major strength of this year’s team, based upon the freshman year he had and the progress he’s made since then. He’s up to 260, has a great mindset, and I think he’s as ready as he will be at any time to really take the next step in his growth as a basketball player. There probably aren’t five guys like him in the country who are a true low-post player and can score the ball.

Johnnie Bryant and Shaun Green got great experience last year and started almost every game. They’ve made good strides during the off-season, but we’re going to get good help right away from our freshman class. The two that have probably stood out the most are Stephen Weigh and Kim Tille. Stephen has the chance to be a very good college basketball player. Kim has a great upside to him. He’s 6-9, athletic and extremely coachable. We’ve got some good pieces to the puzzle. Daniel Deane is a tough, hard-nosed guy who is going to be able to play right away just because of his body. Curtis Eatmon is someone who, because of his athleticism and ability to defend, will be able to play right away in the backcourt.

I think we’re going to have good depth. That will allow us to get out and push the ball more so than we were able to the first two years. I think that’s a point of emphasis going into this year. But in order for us to do that, we’re going to have to be a good defensive team and a good rebounding team. We should have the capability of doing that.

CHN: Discuss the incoming newcomers.  Who do you think will make the biggest impact? 


RG: We have four guys who can make an impact right away—and that’s not taking anything away from the other two. But there’s four who we’ve been very excited about during individual work and conditioning. Kim Tillie and Stephen Weigh would be at the top of the list. Daniel (Deane) and Curtis (Eatmon) are also guys who are going to be able to play right away as freshmen.”

We only have one senior, but we have a great foundation now in our freshman and sophomore classes. That’s how you build something to sustain success. Our objective when we started two years ago was to bring in freshman who would be here for four or five years, and watch them grow and mature. We’ve been pretty fortunate, I think, with the guys we’ve gotten in those classes.


CHN: Talk about a player or two that stand out as being an unsung leader and contributor? 

RG: There are a number of different players on our team who could surprise some people. I think you have to start with Luke (Nevill) because I don’t know how many people across the country have heard of him or know who he is. But I think we have a number of different people who can step up in that role. Ricky Johns finished the season off strong last year—particularly in the last month—and had a great summer playing with the Jamaican National team. He’s someone whose confidence is at an all-time high. He’s a guy that can really help us because he does a couple of things really well. He plays extremely hard, he really buys into the defensive end of the floor, and he can shoot the ball when he’s open. I think he’s someone who may surprise some people this year.


CHN: How does this year's schedule compare to recent seasons in terms of its difficulty? 


RG: I think we have a good schedule. We have home games with Colorado, Rice and Washington State. We have to go to Utah State, which is probably one of the toughest places to play in the country that nobody knows about. Very few teams have won up there in the last five years. Going to Rhode Island will be a challenge for us, and the San Juan Shootout field is pretty good with Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Virginia there. I think it’s a very good nonconference schedule for where we are in our growth as a team. And we need to take care of business at home.


I’ve only been in the Mountain West Conference for going on three years now, but what everyone is telling me is that this is the best the league has been from top to bottom since the league has been in existence. The feeling around the league is that nine of top 10 returning players in the conference are seniors. San Diego State returns darn near everybody from the conference championship team last year. Air Force has all seniors. BYU returns everyone. New Mexico had two kids sitting out last year who transferred from Kansas and Penn State who I think can make a big difference. UNLV has great experience coming back with a great recruiting class. Colorado State has everybody back. So you can see, it’s a very strong league.

CHN: Are you pretty well settled with your starting lineup? If not, what should we expect to be the biggest battles for a starting position? 


RG: We’re going to have competition for the first time at a lot of positions, and that’s how people get better. When you look at our team, I think you really have two guys who are a little bit ahead of the other guys at those spots. Luke Nevill would be one of those, and Johnnie Bryant would be the other. After that, there’s going to be heavy competition at every spot. And I’m not saying Luke and Johnnie won’t have any competition at all. Luke’s going to have Misha (Radojevic), Daniel (Deane) and David (Foster). Johnnie’s going to have Curtis Eatman pushing him at the point every day, and at the two Ricky (Johns) and LB (Lawrence Borha) and Luka (Drca). But those two guys definitely stand out above everyone else heading into the season. Shaun Green is a returning starter at the four spot, and Stephen Weigh looks like he will be the starter at small forward. Kim Tillie will also push for considerable playing time at forward.


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