Accidental star shines in Utah Basketball: Utes center Michael Doleac has a knack for getting attention, even if he doesn't seek it out.

Ncaa Tournament

March 25, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

He scares CBS, intrigues the NBA and is exactly what the NCAA ordered for a PSA.

In a world of abbreviations and haste, Michael Doleac moves deliberately. The Utah center would appear to be a man in a hurry, because he'll earn a degree in biology before his 21st birthday in June, but he has approached college basketball on his terms, not Rick Majerus'.

"He's become an absolute killer in the paint, but Mike has struggled with that at times, because he's such a nice person," said Majerus, the Utah coach, who still hasn't accepted Doleac's often lukewarm attraction to the game. "He's the king of the barbecue. Maybe that's another way to be. Maybe he's better off that way."

The other way would be Keith Van Horn's.

Van Horn was a happily married father when he became the top scorer in Western Athletic Conference history, but he was also the 6-foot-10 gym rat Majerus had been searching for all those years between pizza pubs. His devotion to a ball and a hoop got him a $9 million contract with the New Jersey Nets, and his departure left Salt Lake City full of doubt.

So what happened? Utah finally made the Final Four, not with a team that relies on Van Horn, but one which revolves around Doleac, its 6-11, 265-pound leading scorer, rebounder and accidental basketball player.

The specter of a Stanford-Utah final frightens the ratings mavens at CBS, and the Utes will try to fulfill their half of that bill Saturday at the Alamodome, in the second national semifinal. They face No. 1 North Carolina, they're coming off a monumental thrashing of defending champion Arizona, and none of it would be possible without Doleac.

Antawn Jamison, All-American, is matched against Doleac, GTE Academic All-American and the caliber of student-athlete the NCAA trots out for public service announcements.

"Basketball is definitely the main thing in my life right now, but I don't do it 24 hours a day," Doleac said. "When I'm not playing, I do other things besides sit around and watch basketball. I try to read books, go fishing, something like that. You can only do so much ball in one day."

Before there was basketball, Michael Doleac had plenty.

He's the son of a retired Army colonel who played one season at West Point for a charming fellow, name of Knight. Basketball, however, was never a big deal in the Doleac household, wherever that might have been.

Would you believe that Michael Doleac was born in San Antonio? Phil and Marge Doleac packed up their four children and moved to bases in Texas, Kansas City, Germany and Alaska. They settled in Portland, Ore., but not before Michael had skipped a grade of elementary school and picked up a lot of lessons in the real world.

Besides fishing, Doleac hunts and skis, and he's getting around to golf. He played all manner of sports, but was expected to excel in one venue, the classroom. He is satisfied with his averages of 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds, but the number he would like to get higher is 3.41, his cumulative grade-point average in a pre-med line of study.

"I'm planning on applying for medical school as soon as possible," Doleac said. "I like being around athletes, and being an orthopedic surgeon would be interesting."

Michael Doleac, M.D. to be, never thought he would be this good of a basketball player. Before he entered high school, his family settled in Portland. He didn't play as a freshman, joined an AAU team as a sophomore and rode the varsity bench as a junior. Doleac's life changed in the summer of 1993, however, when he attended a camp at Utah.

"I didn't speak to him [Majerus] until the day he offered me a scholarship," Doleac said. "I hadn't thought about playing in college, or getting a scholarship, because I really hadn't played in a high school game at that point. When I came to Utah, Coach [Majerus] said, 'You have the body, you're big enough, you shoot well enough.' He told me I could play in the NBA."

Actually, Doleac was told he was going to redshirt as a freshman. He sat out two exhibitions to start the 1994-95 season, but Majerus tossed him into the opener against Indiana at the Maui Classic. Doleac made his first shot, a jumper from the top of the key, debuted with 13 points, and never looked back.

Doleac was the bonus prize in the recruiting class that was a year behind Van Horn's. It included small forward Alex Jensen, a sophomore after spending two years on a Mormon mission; Drew Hansen, the shooting guard who was a Rhodes Scholar nominee; and Andre Miller, the point guard who had to sit out the 1994-95 season because of Proposition 48.

Miller and Doleac became starters two years ago, Hansen last season.

Doleac aced tests, and put in enough time on his game. He's collected 1,488 points and 871 rebounds in his career, which isn't strictly about power. Doleac has made 38.7 percent of his three-pointers this season. He gets whacked plenty, and his free-throw percentage has progressed from .742 as a freshman to .817 this season.

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