Utah coach Rick Majerus has a simple rule during practice: If
you're not willing to talk, you'll be forced to run. When 6'11",
260-pound junior center Michael Doleac arrived in Salt Lake City
two years ago, it took him awhile to get used to calling out
screens while playing defense. So he ran. "I remember the first
couple of practices just sprinting up and down, over and over,"
Doleac says. "I was thinking, god, he's killing me."
So it speaks volumes that at the conclusion of one of the Utes'
practices in mid-November, Majerus complained of a headache
caused by Doleac's incessant piping. "I just want to get out of
the gym!" the coach bellowed in mock horror. In truth Doleac's
voice was music to Majerus's ears because an aggressive and
confident Doleac will be sorely needed if the Utes are going to
make any noise in the NCAA tournament.
Doleac is one of four starters who return from a team that went
27-7 last season and won its second straight WAC title before
losing to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Most notable among the
returnees is senior All-America forward Keith Van Horn, who
possesses one of the best all-around games in the country. The
6'9", 238-pound California native was second in the WAC last
season in rebounding (8.8 per game), scoring (21.4), three-point
percentage (.409) and free throw percentage (.851). He bypassed
a spot as a probable lottery pick in the NBA draft to return for
his final college season. He'll be assisted by a solid backcourt
of senior Ben Caton, who averaged 8.8 points per game, and
junior point guard Andre Miller, who averaged 8.6.
The only other player on Utah's roster with experience is 6'5"
junior reserve forward Drew Hansen, who's a role player at best.
That means Majerus will count heavily on help from some of his
six newcomers, including five freshmen. "We have five guys who
know what to do and a bunch of freshmen who don't know
anything," Majerus says. "That's our problem."
That's where Doleac hopes to chime in. A latecomer to the game
who didn't play until his junior year of high school, Doleac
received only one scholarship offer--from Majerus--and is still
a work in progress. But there have been moments, such as the 12
rebounds and career-high 23 points he had in Utah's second-round
NCAA win over Iowa State last March, when he has provided a
glimpse of his potential. "Mike has an unbelievable learning
quotient, and he's come along more than I ever thought he
would," Majerus says.
Doleac has done a good job listening thus far. Now it's time for
him to have his say.