Giacoletti emerging from Majerus' shadow

First-year coach making moves of his own, has led Utah to 13 straight wins


College Basketball

February 04, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Rick who?

A year ago this week, Rick Majerus was hospitalized with the heart condition that would cause him to resign at Utah. He may have been the most recognized figure in the university's athletics history, but the Utes did not exactly fall off the map when he took an analyst's job with ESPN.

Before he moved to Florida, Urban Meyer took the football team to a perfect season and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, as Utah became the first non-BCS member to wet its beak in the Bowl Championship Series pool of cash.

Basketball hasn't missed a beat, as No. 21 Utah (18-3) has won 13 straight.

The Utes have to go to UNLV on Monday and New Mexico in two weeks, but they are in position to go unbeaten in the Mountain West Conference for the first time, thanks to some bridges that were reconstructed by Majerus' replacement.

Five years removed from coaching in Division II, Ray Giacoletti's transition period was greased when guard Marc Jackson turned his retirement from college basketball into a sabbatical and big man Andrew Bogut declined to convert his Olympic capital into a European contract.

Giacoletti is among the sideline talent that flies under the Eastern radar.

He spent eight years playing and coaching in North Dakota and received the Utah job off a good run at Eastern Washington, where he gave Spokane another reason besides Gonzaga to watch ball.

He was still finding his way around Salt Lake City when Jackson asked if he could rejoin the program.

Jackson had a rocky relationship with Majerus and walked away from basketball in March 2003, after he outplayed Oregon's Luke Ridnour in the first round of the NCAA tournament and did all he could against Kentucky in the second round.

"From the outside, Jackson was how I defined Utah basketball, the toughtest little guy there is," Giacoletti said. "I learned that my perception was right. He can shoot it, handle it. He's the pulse of our team."

Giacoletti may be indebted to Jackson for putting his real estate career on hold, but the 6-foot-1 guard is hardly Utah's most visible player.

If Bogut keeps progressing the way he has in the past eight months, he could be the first player taken in the 2005 NBA draft.

His Mountain West Rookie of the Year campaign was sandwiched between two life-altering international tournaments. Bogut led Australia to a world junior title in 2003 and was a revelation at the 2004 Olympics.

Before he traveled to Athens to keep tabs on Bogut, who was inundated with offers to play in Europe, Giacoletti traveled Down Under to visit him in his hometown.

Bogut's blog on the Utah Web site says he has a pet crocodile and kangaroo, but it's all tongue in cheek. Melbourne is about as rural as Philadelphia and just as populated.

"Australia's more laid back, and you have to watch what you say," Bogut said of the political correctness he has found in the United States.

Only five teams in the nation shoot the three better than Utah, but it doesn't have enough attempts to qualify for the NCAA leaders.

Why stay outside when you have the 7-0, 240-pound Bogut posting up? He leads the nation in rebounding and is fourth in field-goal percentage, which the Utes lead as a team.

It helps that Utah also scores in transition and off pressure. It's a change from Majerus, who liked to walk the ball up and make teams beat Utah in the half-court.

"My background was more on the defensive side of the ball, and these guys knew how to get [beat the opponents' offense] to spots," Giacoletti said. "Coach Majerus was about field goal percentage defense, but we run if we get stops. We try to throw them a carrot."

There's at least one more difference under Giacoletti.

Majerus lived in a hotel not far from campus. Giacoletti and his wife, Kim, bought a four-bedroom house in Sandy, a southern suburb of Salt Lake City.


La Salle's Darnell Harris, a freshman guard out of Baltimore's St. Frances Academy, is the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week after collecting 33 points and eight rebounds in two games. He hit five three-pointers against Duquesne. ... A win at Oklahoma tomorrow would go a long way to getting Texas Tech and Bob Knight another NCAA bid. ... Speaking of coaching legends, Lefty Driesell would be proud of Davidson's perfect record in the Southern Conference. It was the first of the four schools he took to the NCAAs. ... Coppin State and Morgan State stand first and fifth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but both face their dreaded Carolina swing this weekend. ... Army's lone Patriot League win came over Navy. The Mids can get revenge Sunday at Alumni Hall. ... On the topic of offensive strategy, Vermont coach/quipster Tom Brennan says: "There are two plays, The Producers and put the ball in the basket." He admits to stealing the line from Charley Eckman, who in his day referenced South Pacific. Bali Hai.

Planting seeds

Paul McMullen's weekly prediction for the top four seeds in each regional of the NCAA tournament:

Syracuse Austin

North Carolina Kansas

Kentucky Wake Forest

Oklahoma Alabama

Wisconsin Arizona

Chicago Albuquerque

Illinois Boston College

Duke Washington

Syracuse Oklahoma State

Louisville Gonzaga

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