Posted by: James Seaman on February 25th, 2012The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
Below average snowfall in the mountains and subpar performances on the hardwood have left Utahns cursing the winter of the 2012 (to the extent that Utahns curse). Along with skiing, basketball carries us through the colder months. The game has woven itself deep into our state’s modern cultural tapestry—the Jazz are Utah’s only major professional team, our colleges have strong basketball traditions, and every Mormon Ward House features an indoor court. When I visit my parents, the old neighborhood is still adorned with hoops in the driveways of most houses, many crooked and sagging from years of missed jump shots caroming off the iron.
This winter, basketball hasn’t been much of a friend to the people of Utah. Despite a fast start, the Jazz have slumped badly in recent weeks. The loss to Minnesota on Wednesday carried a particularly painful sting as Ty Corbin’s club became only the second NBA team this season to blow a 15-point fourth quarter lead. Losers of three straight and eight of 10, the Jazz now find themselves looking up at the Timberwolves from the cellar of the Midwest Division. Things may get worse before they get better—the Jazz still play six of their next eight on the road.
College hoops haven’t provided much hope either. Thursday night I trekked up to the Huntsman Center for the Utah-Cal game. I spent many glorious nights in that building as a kid, watching Josh Grant and Jimmy Soto and Byron Wilson and Keith Van Horn and Andre Miller. Thursday my brother and I wondered aloud whether anyone on Utah’s current squad could have earned a scholarship on one of those Majerus teams. The Utes (5-22) have already lost more games than any team in school history and are currently experiencing their second eight-game losing streak of 2011-12. To give a better idea of just how far the Utes have fallen, our crimson-clad ballers lost, at home, to Cal State-Fullerton by 31 points back in December. Two days after Christmas, 1995, I watched Van Horn and Brandon Jessie beat Cal State Fullerton by 50 points, 108-58. (By the way, that CSF team from the mid-90s featured Chuck Overton, a Salt Lake Community College product who once led the Bruins to a 6th place finish nationally). The Utes lost one game this year 73-33. They rank 339th in the nation in scoring which amazes me because I had no idea there were even 339 teams.
Up in Logan, the usually reliable Aggies aren’t as bad as the Utes but certainly aren’t playing their typical brand of basketball. Utah State has made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, gone to the dance nine times in the last 14 years, and won at least 23 games in each of the last dozen seasons. That streak ends with this year’s 15-14 squad that finds itself in the bottom half of the WAC.
BYU has compiled a strong record (23-7), but Thursday night’s loss to Gonzaga means the Cougars still have just one win against the RPI Top 50 (1-5 against those teams). Joe Lunardi—ESPN’s resident Bracketologist—has BYU in as a 12th seed at the moment. That could change if the Cougars suffer an early exit from the West Coast Conference Tournament. BYU’s recent success has gained the program enough respect that it may get the benefit of the doubt, though some talking heads wonder whether the WCC can actually put three teams in the dance (Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are locks). Either way, the Marriot Center just feels like a lonelier place without Jimmer-mania. And in-state fans following Jimmer’s career at the next level haven’t found a lot to cheer about. Fredette is shooting under 38% from the field and has only made six starts. His air ball on the would-be game-winner against the Jazz didn’t make for a happy homecoming either.
Of course, there has been one bright spot for basketball in the state of Utah—Damian Lillard and the Weber State Wildcats. Lillard ranks second nationally in scoring at 24.7 PPG and has climbed the ESPN Draft Board where he currently sits as the country’s top point guard prospect. Thanks to Lillard, Weber has already won more games (23) than in any season since 2003 (26). Of course, the greatest feat in Wildcat history came in 1999 when Harold “The Show” Acreneaux and Eddie Gill took out North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Can Weber State make a tournament run in 2012? They’ll have to win the Big Sky Tournament first because, despite Lillard’s heroics and Weber’s stellar record, the selection committee isn’t giving this conference more than its single automatic bid.
In all, 2012 hasn’t been a good basketball year in the Beehive State. But happier days await. The Jazz have plenty of young talent, Dave Rose has constructed a rock-solid program that will continue winning as long as he sticks around, and Larry Krystkowiak nabbed the top in-state recruit (Jordan Loveridge).
“Now is the Winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the title character refers to King Edward’s ascension to the throne as the cure for winter’s blues. Utahns will have to hope that youngsters like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Jordan Loveridge, and Matt Carlino can usher in the sun over the state’s basketball landscape for years to come.
Follow me on Twitter @JSeaman34_31
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