- Jeff Shelman
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SALT LAKE CITY -- The headline this summer in The Sydney Morning Herald was both brash and forward looking.
"You May Not Have Heard Of Him Yet But Hoops Scouts Agree He's
The Air Apparent"
Those were the words that greeted newspaper readers about current Utah freshman Andrew Bogut back in July.
A few weeks later, The Age, another Australian newspaper, posted this question to readers:
"Could this teen become the greatest?"
So, honestly, how many of you have actually heard of Andrew Bogut? Don't lie. Unless you're really a hardcore hoophead, you're not alone.
The United States will get its first full look at Bogut when the Utes play in this week's Preseason NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden. Yes, Utah's second-round victory over Minnesota was televised, but the game began at 10:35 p.m. ET. By the time Bogut, a native of Melbourne, Australia, completed his 19-point, 18-rebound performance, it was Thursday morning on the East Coast.
But if Bogut's first two college games for the Utes were any indication, the multi-talented forward won't be underexposed for long. He very well might end up as the best freshman in college basketball this season.
Why? He's going to get minutes on Rick Majerus' extremely young Utes team. Bogut understands how to rebound the ball, can score, and he's efficient. In Preseason NIT victories over Georgia State and Minnesota, Bogut averaged 17 points and 17 rebounds. The scoring average might not seem like much, but that made up 30.4 percent of all points for a deliberate Utes offense.
"He's a good player," Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. "He's so long, he's got to be 7-feet tall. He's a legit inside post player, very efficient who doesn't make many mistakes."
In a non-conference victory Sunday over Stony Brook, Bogut performed for the first time like the freshman he is. After consecutive double-doubles, Bogut was limited in a very low-scoring game to four points and five rebounds. His second-half technical foul wasn't exactly popular with Majerus, either.
Despite being limited by Stony Brook, it isn't surprising that Bogut has had quick success.
Over the summer, Bogut was the most valuable player at the FIBA Junior World Championships after leading Australia to the gold medal. In eight tournament games, he averaged 26.3 points and 17 rebounds. Against a U.S. team that included current college sophomores such as Michigan State's Paul Davis, Illinois' Dee
Brown and Oklahoma's De'Angelo Alexander, Bogut went for 28 points and
18 rebounds in a 106-85 Australian victory.
"He's a big man who can really run the floor," said Oregon coach Ernie Kent, who coached the U.S. junior team. "He has pretty good hands, he's really good at attacking the basket and dunking."
Majerus, who certainly has a bit of old-school in him, has tried to limit the hype surrounding Bogut. He won't let any of his freshmen be interviewed by American reporters, but he has allowed Bogut to be interviewed by the Australian press. And after the victory over Minnesota, Majerus did his best to deflect questions about Bogut.
However, even Majerus acknowledges that Bogut has a chance to be good.
"He's a young kid, but he's a hard worker," Majerus said. "A lot of foreign kids have better attitudes in terms of commitment. He's really dedicated. He comes early and stays late. He brings consistent effort to his play."
While Bogut has much work to do to become an effective post defender, he does a lot of things very well for his age. He is effective in the post and has a nice mid-range game. He can hit the 3-pointer if left open. Counting the Utes two exhibition games, Bogut is shooting 78.3 percent from the floor (36-for-46).
But, his best attribute might be his ability to rebound.
Strong enough to hold his own inside, Bogut also understands how to rebound (making contact and then pursuing the ball), plus seems to have a good knack of being able read the ball in the air and where it will go after hitting the rim or the backboard.
That combination of skills means Bogut's stay in college will probably be as short or as long as he'd like. After leading Australia to the gold medal, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that one club team in Croatia (where his parents are from) offered 1.8 million Euros (approximately $2.14 million). When Bogut, who turned 19 this month, said no, the team increased the offer.
"It was definitely tempting," Bogut told The Sydney Morning Herald. "A European contract for two years could have set me up for life. But I've decided that I've just got to take things as they come and not skip a step."
He acknowledged his stay in college could be short.
"If I have an excellent year, I might throw my name in the NBA draft and see how the media gives attention to my name," Bogut told the newspaper. "I can pull out three days before the draft and still be at college, or I could declare fully, stay in, and get drafted. And I could always go to Europe.
"But the NBA, that's the main goal for my career, and that's why I'm going to college in America because you're there, right there, under the noses of the scouts."
Regardless of whether he opts for the NBA after this season, Bogut is going to play against some of the world's best players over this summer.
The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this month that Bogut will play for Australia at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
"He's one of the best young kids in the world and all of Australia should be excited about him," Australia coach Brian Goorjian told the newspaper. "I don't only see him as a guy on the (Australia) team, I see him as a guy that's going to contribute strongly to our team
at the Olympics.
"(Bogut) has to come into the environment and do it, but what I've seen -- I don't see anybody in the country playing that position better than him. He's going to be a top 5, 6 NBA draft pick."
If (or when) Bogut reaches the NBA, he'll become only the sixth Australian to ever reach the highest level of American basketball.
Luc Longley, a member of the mid-90s Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls, is the best known Australian NBA player. Andrew Gaze played for Washington and San Antonio but is better known as a gunner who helped lead Seton Hall to the 1989 NCAA title game before losing to Michigan. Shane Heal, Mark Bradtke and Chris Anstey have all had less noteworthy stints in the NBA.
And while Bogut enters this week's Preseason NIT as something of an unknown, that won't last for long.
Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) is a
regular contributor to ESPN.com.