Playing in the toughest university basketball competition in the world has firmed two things in the mind of 19-year-old Australian Andrew Bogut (206-F/C-84). First, he is even more determined to win an NBA contract. And second, he will have to work on toning down his accent a bit more.
"I have to talk a bit more with an American tongue or the boys don't understand me and I have to keep repeating myself," said Bogut, of Sandringham in suburban Melbourne.
He came to Utah, which is lying equal third for the Mountain West Conference region in division one of the NCAA competition, without having played in the australian NBL. He is convinced his emerging talents are best displayed in the US collegiate system.
But Bogut did bring a fairly impressive resume from the world under-19 championships played in Greece in July.
The Emus caused the biggest upset of the tournament when they beat the Americans in the quarter-finals. Bogut scored 22 points, had 18 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. He was the mainstay again in Australia's win over Croatia - the birthplace of his father - in the semi-final and Lithuania in the final. His reputation from the world championships was not the sole reason college talent scouts were after him. They had shown interest since he took on a scholarship at the AIS in Canberra last year.
In the local derby match on December 3 against Utah State University in Logan, an hour's drive north of Salt Lake City, Bogut scored his third double-double of the season (12 points and 16 rebounds). But his stunning success since the 2003-04 season began in November (ending in March) means he is a wanted man on court.
"After the worlds, and beating the USA, people knew who I was and they would come at me real hard," Bogut said. "The media talks about a lot of numbers, but personally I just know what I want to do and want to be. I've got a lot of work to do." The game is far more intense physically and more widely watched and loved nationally. People are recognising Bogut in the streets. "I've gone from one city where a sport is a religion to another," he said.
That suits Bogut fine. He came to hone his talents in the tough college system and then to take the next step.
"I want to play in the NBA. That's my goal. I'm planning on four years (in college basketball) but I could get drafted early," he said.
" I still have a lot more work to do on my strength, experience at this level and how to get around the big, wide bodies here. They are very athletic, the basketballers here." He is not so scrawny himself. The 19-year-old, who stands 211cm, has added 7kg to the 100kg frame he took to the world championships. But why didn't he play a season or two in the NBL?
"In Australia, I wasn't by any means a 100 per cent basketballer, but I wanted to get out of there pretty quick because I didn't think I was getting much out of playing basketball there," he said.
"They've got some good players, but there's always salary cap problems and the league has had sponsorship and TV rights problems and teams going under. It just didn't seem a real secure league and I wanted to play at the highest level."
Bogut seems assured of reaching his goals. Then again, he probably gave a strong clue he would even as an 11-year-old in the family backyard. "Whenever I was sad when I was younger or I wanted to be by myself to think, I'd go outside and just shoot for hours and hours.
Whatever his thoughts on the NBL, he would love to play for Australia at the Olympics in August. Bogut will return in May to try press his claims for Boomers selection.