To see the difference between last year's Utah basketball team and this year's, all you have to do is check out the playing time of last year's starters at the center and small forward positions.

Last year, Doug Chapman started 18 games at center, averaging 4.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Ma Jian was the starting small forward, where he started 27 games with an 8.2 scoring average.This year those two players are barely seeing the light of day, playing rarely, if ever. Ma hasn't played at all in two games and is averaging just seven minutes per game, while Chapman hasn't played two games and averages just three minutes per game.

Chapman and Ma can blame their decreased roles on three freshman who have surprised Ute fans - and even their coaches - with their fine play.

Ben Melmeth, who came from Australia three years ago to play basketball for Judge Memorial High School, is starting at center, averaging 6.2 points and 6 rebounds per game. Melmeth's performance isn't really unexpected since he was in the Ute program last year as a redshirt.

The most pleasant surprises have been the performances of true freshmen Alex Jensen and Michael Doleac, both of whom almost redshirted this year.

Jensen is barely 181/2, while Doleac isn't even 171/2 yet. Both players were named the top players in their state last year, Doleac the MVP in Oregon and Jensen as Mr. Basketball in Utah for Viewmont High.

Majerus is high on both players and has been especially complimentary of Jensen, perhaps more than any other player on the team so far this year.

"I like his poise and composure - he's a smart kid," said Majerus. "He's a coach's dream. He has what I call a high coachability quotient."

Although the 6-foot-9 Jensen hasn't started a game, he ranks third on the team in minutes played ("Starting means nothing to me. That's for high school," says Majerus).

The 6-11 Doleac is a late bloomer who didn't even start a varsity game until his senior year of high school. So how did Utah sign him before his senior season?

"A buddy of mine told me about him. I went and watched him in the summer and liked him," says Majerus. "He came to our camp and was the only guy who came to the 6 a.m. session every day. That's the kind of kid he is. He's also very coachable."

Majerus calls Doleac "brilliant," a straight-A student who wants to attend medical school after he graduates.

Because of Doleac's age and inexperience, Ute coaches were seriously considering redshirting him this year. But they decided he would play a lot and so far he has (just under 20 minutes per game). Doleac ranks third on the team in scoring (8.8 ppg) on 53 percent shooting and 70 percent from the line.

NO RESPECT: Utah's top scorer and rebounder, Keith Van Horn, was all-state and all-CIF when he played for Diamond Bar High School in California. He was excited to play in southern California two weeks ago when the Utes defeated USC.

However, he couldn't even get his name spelled right in the story in the L.A. Times the following day. He was referred to as Keith Van Horne, with the "e" on his name throughout the story.

Perhaps the writer got him mixed up with the Keith Van Horne, who played tackle for the Chicago Bears.

SHOOT FOR CANCER: Along with nine other college coaches in Utah, Majerus is teaming up to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.

The "Three Point Attack Coaches vs. Cancer" involves making a pledge for every three-point shot made by a Utah player.

For more information call 483-1500 or 1-800-234-0533.

UTE NOTES: Mark Rydalch, who has been undergoing extensive rehabilitation for an injured knee the past six months, may play a few minutes in Saturday's game against Adams State. He was expected to return in January but is a couple of weeks ahead of schedule . . . Van Horn is among the nation's leaders in free throw percentage at 93.3 percent (28 of 30) . . . Last year, the Utes were one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country at 40 percent. But this year, the Utes are struggling at just 30.4 percent. But don't blame Terry Preston - he's hitting 57 percent (13 of 23) of his treys . . . Chapman turns 25 on the 25th of this month - Christmas Day. The youngest Ute player, Doleac, turns 18 next June.