There's no question the success of the Utah basketball team this season has centered on the play of the Utes' NBA-player-in-waiting Andrew Bogut, who continues to dominate opponents game after game.
Yet ask Ute coach Ray Giacoletti what has been the main difference in the Utes' improved play over the past month and he points directly to junior forward Bryant Markson.
"We've had a number of different people step up, but he's probably meant the most," Giacoletti said. "The energy he brings and pride he takes in playing defense and rebounding the basketball has made a big difference for us."
The 6-foot-6, 190-pounder from Monrovia, Calif., has stepped up large in place of injured starter Richard Chaney, who broke his hand in practice in late December. Since then, Markson has seen his scoring average nearly double as his minutes have increased by nearly 13 per game.
Markson was averaging 7.6 points a game, going into the Weber State game when he took Chaney's place in the starting lineup. That night he made all five of his shots and followed up with a 14-point, 8-rebound performance against Colorado, when he also came up with five steals.
Since then, he's never been out of double figures and in the Utes' most recent win, Markson scored a career-high 20 points against Colorado State.
As far as Giacoletti is concerned, Markson's scoring is just a bonus.
"Sometimes when a player goes out looking for offense, it complicates things," he said. "The thing I'm most pleased with is that he's bought into playing defense and rebounding."
Markson, who's always had a quick smile, is enjoying basketball more than ever as his numbers rise, while becoming a key component on a winning basketball team.
"I'm really having fun," Markson says. "I feel like I'm doing what I was recruited here for."
With Giacoletti at Utah's helm, Markson's game has blossomed. After averaging 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds as a freshman, he fell to 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds last year and his confidence waned.
But going into Saturday's game with New Mexico, Markson is averaging 10.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, second on the team, and perhaps most impressively is shooting 56.3 percent from the field.
Markson's improved outside shooting is due in part to his family's move from L.A. to Barstow, out in the California desert last year.
"There's nothing out there," Markson said of his new home. "Last summer that's all I could do, so I'd jog up to the gym and work on my game by myself. I'd go to the weight room and lift and shoot baskets. Sometimes the little kids would come in and we'd mess around and play HORSE."
Markson's improved shooting ability has made a big difference in his overall game.
"I know I can shoot now, and people are respecting my jumper," he said. "When they come out too far on me, I can drive by them and dish it off or lay it up."
With Markson as a threat to score, Ute opponents can't gang up as much on Bogut or Marc Jackson as some have tried to do this year.
"Now I can shoot and not have to worry if I miss that I'm coming out of the game," he said. "I'm more comfortable that way. We had that license to shoot thing and I got that early, so coach knows I can shoot and tells me to keep shooting it."
Markson is known as one of the team's best defenders and he can guard any one of four positions, from point guard to power forward. On Monday he found himself guarding Jason Smith, one of three 7-footers in Colorado State's starting lineup.
"He's our Energizer Bunny on defense," said Giacoletti.
The question is, what happens when Chaney is completely healthy.
Chaney, who has been cleared to play a few minutes Saturday, was the third-leading scorer on the team (11.5 ppg) before his injury this year.
Markson doesn't act worried in the least that his minutes will diminish. In fact, he's excited for his good friend to return to the lineup.
"When Rich comes back, we're going to be real good," Markson said.
"He's been starting for over a year, and I'm not trying to take it away from him or anything. I'll come off the bench like I've been doing; it's no big deal to me."
Because for Markson, basketball is fun again whether he's playing 20 minutes a game or 35.
"I'm really enjoying it," he said. "A 10-game winning streak . . . everybody's smiling, everybody's having fun . . . it's great right now."