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Monday, June 21, 2010
Expansion winner: Jim Boylen

By Eamonn Brennan

The last time we checked in with Utah coach Jim Boylen, things were not going well. The Utes had just lost freshman Marshall Henderson, an all-conference performer who chose to transfer away from Boylen's program thanks to what Henderson called "restrictions" that didn't "fit with my individualism." Henderson was the fourth player to leave the Utes in the two weeks following Utah's season. For a team that went 7-9 in the Mountain West and finished 14-17 overall, these were steps in a decidedly negative direction.

Now? Boylen is downright radiant. That attitude has everything to do with Utah's move to the Pac-10 and the inherent recruiting advantages Boylen predicts his school will experience very soon. From CBS' Gary Parrish:
"You're always fighting that top level, and you might still be neck-and-neck on a kid, but they always have the but. But you're not in the Pac-10. But you're not in the Big 12," Boylen said. "It's used against you when you're not in one of those leagues. But now that we're looking eye-to-eye with people, I think we'll come out pretty good.

"There's just a vibe through the town. This is something that people have hoped for because this is a school that's been trying to bust the BCS, and fans have been trying to fight the BCS. But that's all gone now."

This is a little bit specious. Why? Utah has been a national hoops power before. The school's conference affiliation hasn't done much to dampen the football team's success. And plenty of mid-major-ish schools -- Gonzaga, Xavier, Butler, conference mates BYU and New Mexico, among others -- have been able to recruit top talent and compete at the highest levels of college hoops without a major conference affiliation.

But if Boylen thinks the move to the Pac-10 will help -- if his recruiting pitch is that damaged by the "But you're not in the Pac-10" angle -- then in the manner of all good self-fulfilling prophecies, it probably will. At the very least, it can't hurt. Utah is a big boy now. The stakes are higher. If Boylen gets it right, so are the rewards.