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Right at Home in a New Role

Bogut, elevating his game in Athens, will have expanded duties his sophomore year at Utah.

August 24, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — In the eyes of those here paying close attention to the Australian national basketball team, a boy named Andrew Bogut became a man. That should be big news in at least two places, Melbourne and Salt Lake City.

Bogut is the Aussies' 19-year-old center. As a team, Australia didn't reach the quarterfinals, winning only once, 83-59, over Angola. But as a player, Bogut has taken another huge leap, the kind of thing that Rick Majerus projected when he recruited the 6-foot-9 player from Melbourne to play at the University of Utah.

Majerus is gone now, having retired in the middle of last season to tend to his health, and new Coach Ray Giacolletti may have inherited a gold mine.

Bogut will go from here to Salt Lake City to get ready for his sophomore season. His resume will have an update: Olympic star.

That will be based on averages that, after an impressive performance against a rugged and seasoned Lithuanian team in a 100-85 defeat, went to 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. Lithuania is unbeaten in five games, including a thriller Saturday against the U.S. It plays opposing centers with a revolving door of 7-footers and near 7-footers with rock jaws and bar-bouncer bodies. Against that crew, Bogut got 21 points, nine rebounds and led a second-half charge that cut Lithuania's lead to seven points.

At that point, Brian Goorjian, Australia's coach, took a costly technical and the momentum swung back to Lithuania.

Team results notwithstanding, Bogut's progress has not gone unnoticed. By his own admission, he arrived with the thought, and the designated role, of a complementary player who would rebound and hustle and feed the older, more experienced Aussies -- six of the 12 are 30 or older. But he quickly showed he could produce offensively and needed to be more of a first option in the Australian offense.

"That's just kind of how it went," he said Monday. "Three or four games and I did some scoring and that's just how it worked out."

Goorjian went so far as to say, in one postgame news conference, that Bogut "may become the best player to ever play for our country."

And that was before his best game of the tournament, his 35-minute outing against gold-medal threat Lithuania.

Bogut had a tougher time last Thursday, when Australia played the United States. He had nine points and five rebounds in an 89-79 loss and spent much of the game on the bench with four fouls. But he said it was time well spent.

"Playing Tim Duncan was awesome," he said. "He is the best in the world. He doesn't do anything fancy, just plays hard, straight ahead, and works hard all the time."

That's quite a jump -- from Mountain West Conference freshman of the year to one-on-one in the Olympics with Tim Duncan.

Duncan dunked in his face near the end of the game, truly an Olympic moment for any basketball player, but Bogut said he got mostly positives from being here and is eager to get back on the floor at the Huntsman Center.

"My confidence is up right now," he said.

He will return to a Utah team that made the NCAA tournament last season, but has lost Nick Jacobson and Tim Frost to graduation. It has a good group of underclassmen, though, as well as Mark Jackson, who will return after having left for a season in a dispute with the coaching staff.

"I am told we will run a new high-post offense," Bogut said, "and everything will run through me. I'm looking forward to that."

That, of course, becomes the ever-present, double-edged sword in college basketball. The better Bogut gets, the less likely it is that he will resist pro money -- either in the U.S. or Europe -- and stay the full four years at Utah.

"I couldn't tell you right now," he said. "It might be one, two or three years. I just have to see how things go."

One thing is certain. After playing 7-2 Eurelijus Zukauskas, 6-11 Ksistof Lavrinovic and 6-11 Robertas Javtokas, who are 31, 24 and 24, respectively, and who each spent portions of Monday's game leaning on Bogut, pushing him, banging and bumping him, the young Aussie is going to find the Mountain West far less intimidating than it was a year ago.

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