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.