Eighteen months after leaving the Utah basketball program, Marc Jackson was back in a Ute jersey Saturday afternoon and excited for the upcoming season.
Jackson joined 12 teammates for a spirited practice Saturday afternoon at the Huntsman Center before a gathering that included media and boosters, including Jon M. Huntsman himself.
It was the first official practice for new coach Ray Giacoletti and included five newcomers along with eight returning players, including returning starters Andrew Bogut, Richard Chaney and Tim Drisdom. Jackson received a little extra attention because he was returning after a year away from the program.
In April 2003, after earning second-team all-Mountain West Conference honors, Jackson quit the Ute team, supposedly because of a loss of passion for the game. His real lack of passion, however, was playing for Utah coach Rick Majerus.
So after Majerus quit last year, Jackson met with teammates and Giacoletti before rejoining the program last April. He worked hard all summer on his own, since he wasn't allowed to officially work out with teammates until he enrolled in school in August.
Jackson has overcome tendinitis in his knee and says he's in better shape than ever as he heads into a season in which he'll be the only senior on the team.
"It's nice to have this opportunity," said Jackson. "I feel very fortunate. Not many people would get it."
Jackson said it wasn't a big deal to be accepted back by his teammates, with whom he enjoyed a good relationship before he left.
"I had a great relationship with the team here prior," he said. "We discussed a couple of things and everyone's on the same page. I want to do whatever I've got to do to win."
Jackson shared point guard duties with Drisdom in 2002-03, but this year the two are likely to be on the starting guardline together with Jackson playing the two-guard on offense and guarding the opponent's point on defense.
"There's going to be a lot of minutes out there," he said.
Jackson said besides being in great shape that he's "shooting the ball a lot better than in the past."
Drisdom played a big part in Jackson's return to the team and he's happy to see his old teammate on the court again.
"I'm excited — he was obviously a good player before and it's good to get a chance to play with him again," he said. "He said he wanted to come back and I had no problems with that. He brings another level of toughness to this team."
Bogut, displaying what he called his long "Euro trash hairdo," also acted excited to be back for his sophomore season after starring for the Australian Olympic team in the summer.
"It's been a long while since getting back from the Olympics so it's good to get started finally," he said. "I'm eager to get back into it."
Bogut said he's a much more confident player this year and said fans will see a better jump shot, including some 3-pointers.
The 6-11 Bogut will play the big forward position when 7-foot Chris Jackson is in the game and will play post when the Utes go with a smaller lineup that includes Justin Hawkins or Bryant Markson.
"Our offense is real versatile," he said. "It fits my style and benefits me better than last year."
The Utes' first public appearance will be Oct. 28 at the annual "Night with the Runnin' Utes." Their first exhibition game will be Nov. 6 against Carroll College and their first official game will be Nov. 19 against Stony Brook.