Utah’s reserves enjoy their role

first_img Bogut leads All-America team voting A half-hour before the official start of Tuesday’s practice, five Utah basketball players are already out on the floor practicing. As Bryant Markson and Marc Jackson and other Utes walk down the stairs of the Huntsman Center in their street clothes with bags over their shoulders, five Ute players are already working out under the direction of Ute assistant coach Randy Rahe.This week they are Kelenna Azubuike, Chuck Hayes, Randoph Morris, Rajon Rondo and Patrick Sparks of Kentucky.Last week they were Filiberto Rivera, Omar Thomas and the rest of the UTEP team that the Utes dispatched in the first round of the NCAA tournament.In reality they are Chris Grant, Casey Iverson, Luke Nevill, Jake Schmidt and Johnnie Bryant. They are Utah’s “white shirts,” the guys in the white jerseys trying to act and play as much like Kentucky players as they possibly can this week in practice.None will play in Friday’s third-round NCAA game in Austin, Texas, barring a 20-point victory or decisive loss. Nevill can’t play because he’s redshirting this year, and Bryant won’t even be in Texas because of NCAA rules barring midseason transfers from traveling with the team. The other three rarely see action.But the five, along with Austin Robison, another redshirt freshman who plays on the scout team, will play an important part in getting the Utes prepared for the Wildcats, who they’ll face Friday night (7:40 p.m. MST) at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.Ute coach Ray Giacoletti is the first to admit how important the scout team is to his team’s success.”These guys spend extra time before and after practice trying to make sure they give us the correct look our opponent is going to give us,” Giacoletti said. “They are invaluable in that way. With Luke and Johnnie Bryant, it makes it really competitive because these are two guys we’re counting on big next year.”Rahe stands at the top of the key with notes in his hand, and instructs the players where to set up and when to screen for another player just as if he was teaching them a new play at the start of the season. Only this time, they are practicing Kentucky sets that the Ute staff has been studying on tape for the past three days.Rahe yells out things like “wings cross” or “double stack,” and the five players run through plays they’ve learned just minutes before.When the Ute starters and top reserves join practice later, they’ll be getting a crash course on the kind of looks they’ll be seeing Friday night.While it may seem like a thankless job, the scout players enjoy it and are proud of the role they play in the team’s success.”We’re supposed to try to copy the tendencies of players we’re going to be facing,” said Grant, a walk-on from East High School. “That makes it fun. One day I’m a shooter, and one day I’m a driver.”Before the BYU game, Grant was assigned to be Mike Hall. So he tried to play like Hall, going to his left and slashing to the basket. This week it will be Azubuike, the Wildcats’ leading scorer.Bryant, who joined the team this semester as a transfer and will have three years left to play, is usually assigned to be the opponent’s point guard — Rondo, this week. But even though he’s just 6-feet tall, he played New Mexico’s Danny Granger last month in practice because he’s such a good outside shooter.”It’s fun to get my teammates better and help them prepare for the game,” he said. “I try to be as competitive as possible and push them.”Schmidt, a 6-8, 240-pound freshman from Wyoming, usually plays the opponent’s power forward and took a turn as Granger the first time the Utes played New Mexico.”The better we play against the starters, the better they’re going to play in the game,” he said. “It’s something our coaches tell us every day. You’ve got to show up, or your teammates might not show up.”The 7-foot Nevill is obviously the center, which will be the 6-10 freshman Morris this week. Iverson, an excellent outside shooter, plays the role of Kentucky’s top shooter, Sparks.Even though they may not get to see a lot of minutes, the Ute “white shirt” players still feel they are a big part of the team. “It’s such a rush to go out there and try to provide energy for the team,” Grant said. “We feel very much a part of the team.” Related E-mail: [email protected] Kentucky coach says Ute squad better than ’98’slast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *