PROVO — It's not often that a player — especially one as talented as Trent Whiting — crosses enemy lines and transfers to the rival school.
Yet Whiting did exactly that a year ago, leaving Utah in favor of BYU. Monday night (10 p.m., ESPN), Whiting faces his old team for the first time — at the Marriott Center.
While it is certainly an intriguing subplot for the first BYU-Utah battle of the season, the senior guard says this game is not about him or his decision to trade a red uniform for a blue one. Animosity? Bitterness? Revenge? Those feelings don't exist, he insists.
"The guys I played with up there (at Utah), we're good friends," he said, referring specifically to Phil Cullen, Jeff Johnsen and Nate Althoff. "And we'll always be good friends. They understand my situation, and they're happy I was able to find something that was good for me. It will be like playing against good friends from high school."
Because this game is going to be broadcast on national television, is crucial to the Mountain West Conference race and is, well, BYU-versus-Utah, Whiting will be up for it. Cougar coach Steve Cleveland has talked to Whiting about not letting his emotions stand in the way of his performance.
"I hope he'll realize this is a big game. If it becomes a personal issue, he won't play well," Cleveland said. "It can't be personal. It has to be business as usual. Anything other than that will hurt our team. I don't expect Trent Whiting to make this a personal issue."
Whiting enrolled at BYU last January after playing in just five games for Utah coach Rick Majerus. He played, and practiced, in pain as he dealt with a leg injury. Whiting felt he wasn't getting the rest he needed to heal, so he exercised a medical redshirt and then transferred to Provo.
The decision, he explains, was not difficult, in spite of the boiling cauldron that is the BYU-Utah rivalry. "I wanted to play in a program that fit me better, and this obviously does," he said. "If I would have stayed at Utah, BYU people wouldn't have liked me. By coming down here, Utah people don't like me. It doesn't matter where I would have gone. It would have been the same reaction on either side. Some people didn't like it. That's part of it."
By transferring within the MWC, he lost a year of eligibility as per league rules. He also lost an appeal to reinstate the year of eligibility.
"There were some issues (at Utah), there were some difficult times, and he left, but that happens," Cleveland said. "It wasn't a perfect fit for him there. The fact that he went to a rival school adds fuel to the fire. But Trent is not a vindictive person. He's a young man who loves basketball and enjoys being here and wants to help us be successful."
While there's talk that Whiting and Majerus were not on good terms when he departed Utah, Whiting has not publicly criticized Majerus.
"There's probably some feelings between he and coach Majerus, but I don't even know that, because I've never talked to coach Majerus about it," Cleveland added. "That's between Trent and him. But as far as him having bad blood for the players and coaches, there's none."
Whiting says that Ute assistant Dick Hunsaker, who is coaching Utah in Majerus' absence this season, has been positive.
"Coach Hunsaker has never said anything but good things to me," said the former Snow College All-America. "When I transferred down here to BYU, he just told me, 'Keep doing the things you did at Snow and you'll be a success.' He was very encouraging to me. That sticks out in my mind. It's not that big of an issue."
As far as both teams are concerned, the Whiting situation is just a sidelight. Both the Utes (11-8, 3-2) and Cougars (13-6, 2-2) were swept last week on a road trip to Colorado State and Wyoming and desperately want to return to their winning ways.
"We've got to hold our home court. If we don't do that, we're not going to have a shot at winning (the conference)," Whiting said. "This game is very important, with both of us coming off a couple of losses. One more loss and you're set back pretty far. It's going to be big for us and big for them."
NOTES: BYU forward Travis Hansen will not play tonight due to a stress fracture in his right foot, Cleveland said. . . . BYU owns a 15-game home winning streak. . . . Tonight's game will mark the 229th meeting in the BYU-Utah series. Each team has won 114 games. . . . The Utes have won five in a row over the Cougars at the Marriott Center.