Bogut's quickly become a star

Originally Published: February 1, 2005
By Ed Graney | Special to ESPN.com

The Web site (www.utahutes.com/andrewbogut) is up and running now in case you want to bet a friend on the time of day in Melbourne. Or in case you are confused about the training regimen at the Australian Institute for Sport. Or if you want to read about pet crocodiles and kangaroos that really don't exist.

Or maybe you just want to know more about the most productive player in college basketball today.

Perhaps, like so many, you are intrigued about how sophomore Andrew Bogut got this good this fast.

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  • Officials at Utah have begun one of those full-court publicity campaigns to try and earn their star player recognition for postseason honors, one of those committed crusades that programs from non-major conferences often feel compelled to run in the event national media might not bother to glance their direction.

    That shouldn't be a major dilemma for the Utes. It is one thing for a player to be good.

    It is quite another for him to dominate.

    "(Bogut) is at least 50 percent better if not more than last season," said Colorado State coach Dale Layer. "His body is different, his confidence is higher, his skills are better. He can dominate a game in 2-3 phases. He has gone from a good to a great player.

    "He dominates the glass inside and is an exceptional passer out of the post. When you have those characteristics -- and you are also 7-feet, blocking shots -- you can control entire games. When you can dominate the lane and also control what happens outside, that's huge."

    But how in the world did this happen?

    How did Bogut go from a solid Mountain West Conference player averaging 12.5 points as a freshman to leading the nation in double-doubles (14) this season? How did he advance from second-team all-league to his current All-American pursuit with averages of 20 points and 12 rebounds? How did he improve from three 20-point games last year to making the occurrence more common in Salt Lake City than traffic around Temple Square?

    Well, a few things.

    The No. 22 Utes are rolling at 18-3 under first-year coach Ray Giacoletti, having won 13 straight and sitting comfortably atop the Mountain West at 6-0. You can make an argument -- a very strong one with each passing victory -- that this version of Utah is the best team in the league's six-year history.

    And it is within a new up-tempo system that Bogut has flourished.

    He was recruited to Utah by Rick Majerus and was successful enough last season to be named his league's Freshman of the Year. But there is no question Bogut is more relaxed playing under Giacoletti and -- oh, by the way -- it never hurts to get an offensive touch eight out of every 10 trips.

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    In his last 36 shot attempts, Bogut has missed just seven times.

    "I'm just a lot more comfortable this season," he said. "Everything about (Giacoletti) is positive. He doesn't approach things negatively. We work hard and respect him and he shows respect for us. It's different from last year. You can miss a shot and not be afraid you will be taken out.

    "Coach Majerus was so dedicated to the game. His defensive philosophy is one of the best in the world. He scouted teams to a pulp. We knew every play they would run before it happened. We'd basically take another team's top two players out of every game. But I think the new coaching staff has (more) confidence in me and me in them."

    It is this type of assurance Bogut began to feel in the off-season, when European pro teams continued to dangle lucrative contracts in his face. Opinion split on whether he would return to Utah but the decision might have been sealed when Giacoletti flew to Australia to deliver his finest recruiting proposal. It worked, and from there, Bogut took his game to a new level by starting for his country against far older and more experienced players in the Athens Olympics.

    The guard skills come from when he stopped growing around 12 and actually played on the perimeter for a few years. But then he hit another spurt and sprouted five more inches by age 16. Now, opposing coaches are at a loss for how to defend him. Bogut is too skilled to play straight-up in the post and the double- and triple-teaming inside has allowed him to consistently find a player like senior Marc Jackson (53 percent on three-pointers) for open looks.

    "I had a pretty good idea (Bogut) had a great future ahead of him, but I didn't realize he was this good," Giacoletti said. "He is as good a passer as I have ever seen for a big man and is unselfish almost to a fault. I would like to see him shoot more at times ... I think our other players realize we're a much better team when he gets as many touches as possible."

    They had better continue finding him. He won't be around forever.

    Try, in all likelihood, a few more months.

    Bogut has been able to reject those European offers for a few years now, but his professional stock has risen to a much higher echelon. He just turned 20 and is undoubtedly an NBA lottery pick should he choose to leave school following this season. Some have even suggested he could ascend to the No. 1 overall selection.

    His response: Nothing yet.

    "I try not to believe everything people say and realize I'll have plenty of time to think about it when the season's final buzzer sounds," Bogut said. "Right now, with as well as the team is playing, that's all I'm concerned about. Even if I already knew, I wouldn't say. We have a chance to do something special. I just kind of ignore all the talk. For a few years now, I have had the opportunity to play for money and didn't."

    Meanwhile, he will continue updating his blog on the new Web site and the school will begin mailing 600 paper boomerangs promoting Bogut to national media in the coming days. Yep, the full-court publicity campaign is underway.

    For once, the player actually equals the hype.

    Surpasses it, even.

    Ed Graney of the San Diego Union-Tribune is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ed.graney@uniontrib.com.