Patrick Kinahan: Legendary player could provide needed jolt for Utah basketball

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah men's basketball program needs a jolt, something that can reinvigorate an increasingly apathetic fan base.

Rich in tradition dating back some 80 years, the Utes seemingly have received an unhealthy dose of negative news since the season ended with a loss in the NIT semifinals. And to complicate matters, the loyalists don't look hard to find the downers.

In addition to Utah's bitter rival accomplishing more in a better conference this past season, BYU has been hogging all the media attention the last several weeks. It started with the heralded hiring of NBA assistant coach Kevin Young to replace Mark Pope, who got the prestigious Kentucky head coaching job after multiple candidates passed.

The hits against Utah then continued when Young added Chris Burgess to his staff. The popular former Utes player was viewed as a valuable assistant for Utah coach Craig Smith, who also lost assistant DeMarlo Slocum to Washington.

Once Burgess came aboard, BYU landed Utah big man Keba Keita out of the transfer portal. The move came on the heels of Utah losing point guard Devion Smith Rick Pitino's program at St. John's.

In fairness, Utah has restocked the roster with multiple players out of the transfer portal, but none appear to have the credentials to singularly help restore some of the program's glory.

As all coaches say, recruiting is the pathway to success in college sports. Right now, Utah doesn't appear to have the buzz that can help attract high-level talent as the program transitions from the Pac-12 into the much tougher Big 12 this upcoming season.

Smith can help bring more excitement to the program through the decisions to fill out his coaching staff. No doubt, hiring Utah legend Andre Miller would provide the splash Utah basketball obviously requires.

As all of Utah basketball supporters can vividly recall, even if they didn't witness it, Miller justifiably holds the distinction of being the greatest point guard in program history. His incredibly stellar play in the 1998 NCAA Tournament practically single-handedly carried the Utes into the Final Four.

He also was one of the most loyal Utes, starting out as shy introvert from Compton, California, who had to sit out a year due to NCAA academic requirements. Three years later, instead of taking the NBA money, Miller earned a degree and came back to play one final season in 1998-99.

After a 17-year NBA career that ended in 2016, Miller dabbled in high school coaching upon his retirement. In 2022, he became the Denver Nuggets' G League coach in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"I wanted to stay a part of the game in same way or form," Miller said during an interview with The Zone last year. "I didn't know if it was coaching or management or anything. I was just kind of in limbo, enjoying retirement."

Recently completing his second season, Miller's team was 11-23 and finished 16th in the Eastern Conference. In a real sense, the experience coaching in the minor league with a roster full of younger players trying to learn the game has helped prepare him for the task of college coaching.

After first getting into it, Miller was open to all coaching possibilities. At the minimum, he has had at least casual contact with Smith.

"I'm not going to limit myself," Miller said. "I do want to continue to do this. Wherever I find myself I'm going to try to do it to the best that I can and have fun doing it."

For such an accomplished program, Utah has not had much of a coaching tree that could tap into alumni. Alex Jensen, Miller's teammate on the team that lost to Kentucky in the national championship, has been in coaching since 2007.

He served as an assistant for former Utah coach Rick Majerus at St. Louis for four years before becoming the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers' G League team for two seasons. Jensen has been an NBA assistant the last decade.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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