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Andrew Bogut — News athlete of the year

Hard work led to honor after honor for former Utah center

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The first time Andrew Bogut's name came to light in Utah — perhaps the first time ever in the United States — was in April of 2002 when it appeared in a Deseret Morning News article.

A University of Utah assistant basketball coach had tipped off the News about a 17-year-old Australian who was going to sign a letter of intent later that week. A short story reported that Bogut was a 6-foot-9, 205-pound forward-center, who played for the Australian Institute of Sports men's team. No statistics were available, but a biography from the AIS, called Bogut "strong on the boards," a "hard worker" and "an excellent passer."

No mention was made about Bogut being a future NCAA college basketball player of the year and a future NBA No. 1 draft choice.

Yet that's exactly what Bogut ended up being just three years later.

It's quite an amazing story, looking back on it.

Bogut didn't even make it to Utah that first year with the class of Tim Drisdom, Bryant Markson and Richard Chaney because of some difficulties transferring credit from his high school in Australia.

He was expected to join Utah in December and play half the season, but it was decided that he should wait and start the following year since he was younger and the Utes didn't want to waste one of his years of eligibility (ironic, since he only used two years as it turned out).

Bogut stayed home and improved his game and the following summer he made an impact on the international scene when he led Australia to the Junior World title in Greece, where he earned MVP honors.

At that point Bogut could have gone a different direction, either accepting one of several offers to play professionally or signing with a different college because it had been a year since his initial signing with Utah. But he didn't.

"I stuck with Utah, because they stuck with me," he said.

When Bogut came to Utah that fall he had grown to 7-foot, 245 pounds. Though he had a less-than-dazzling season under coach Rick Majerus, he earned Mountain West Conference freshman-of-the-year honors after averaging 12.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

The following summer, Bogut starred for Australia at the Olympics in Greece and had more offers to play professionally in Europe. However, he had made a commitment to new Utah coach Ray Giacoletti in the spring and again stuck to it.

Playing in an offense built around him, Bogut thrived, as did the Ute team in 2004-05, which compiled a 29-6 record. Bogut delivered a monster season averaging 20.4 points and 12.2 rebounds, leading Utah to a Mountain West Conference championship, into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA and swept the Wooden, Naismith and every other major award as college basketball's top player.

No wonder he was an easy choice as the Deseret Morning News 2005 Athlete of the Year.

When Bogut won Athlete of the Month honors last January, he was in the midst of a pretty darn good season. The newspaper story at the time said he had a "chance" to make some all-American teams. But he just kept getting better and better.

In early February, Bogut had back-to-back games of 33 points and 16 rebounds against Colorado State and 31 points and 13 rebounds against Wyoming. Except for a game against Air Force when he grabbed "only" nine rebounds, Bogut produced double-doubles over the last 12 games of the season.

Perhaps his best game of the year was his lowest scoring game when he helped the Utes to an upset over Oklahoma in the NCAA second round. He grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out seven assists and blocked two shots in addition to scoring 10 points.

Soon after the Utes were eliminated by Kentucky in the NCAAs, Bogut announced his intentions to enter the NBA Draft, which came as no surprise to everyone.

First he had to collect all of his awards, traveling around the country with Giacoletti. Bogut won top awards from The Associated Press, U.S. Basketball Writers, National Association of Basketball Coaches, Sports Illustrated, Chevrolet/CBS and Basketball Times.

He capped off the trophy tour in early April when he was presented with the Naismith Award on a Friday night in Atlanta, then caught a red-eye flight to Los Angeles where the following morning he received the Heisman Trophy of college basketball, the John R. Wooden Award, on national television.

Bogut called his whirlwind couple of weeks "crazy," but he was delighted with his awards, particularly the Wooden Award.

"It's very special," he said. "To have my name engraved on the trophy with the likes of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan is unbelievable and something I'll cherish forever."

After collecting the last of his many awards, Bogut worked out for six weeks in Washington D.C. and when the NBA Draft came around in late June, he was selected No. 1 by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Bogut was thrilled to be the No. 1 pick and to go to Milwaukee, which already had a pretty good team as well as a sizeable Croatian community.

Although Bogut has had his ups and downs in his rookie season, the Bucks are happy with his play. So far as he's averaging 9.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.5 percent from the field, fifth best in the NBA.

Besides Bogut, other DMN Athletes of the Month in 2005 were golfers Mike Reid, Clay Ogden and Nick Becker, football players Eric Weddle, Curtis Brown, Riley Nelson and Travis LaTendresse, basketball player Ronnie Price, gymnast Annabeth Eberle, Real Salt Lake's Jason Kreis and Salt Lake Stinger Brian Gordon.

Andrew Bogut

University of Utah center

Led Utah to a 29-6 record and to the NCAA Sweet 16, averaging 20.4 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.

Won every major college player of the year award, including the Naismith and Wooden awards.

Averages 9.1 points and 7.6 assists, while shooting 54.5 percent as a rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com