Andrew Bogut said he spent "probably the best two years of my life" in Salt Lake City. He didn't even get to spend 24 hours in Utah this time around, but he was still able to help the Milwaukee Bucks earn a 90-81 preseason victory over the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on Wednesday night.
Bogut, sporting a close-cropped haircut and a few extra pounds of muscle, hardly looked like the shaggy former Ute star center from Australia who led his team to the Sweet 16 in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. But some of his post moves were recognizable to Ute fans in attendance. Bogut scored 10 points with seven boards in the Bucks' win. It was the second game of a back-to-back after the Bucks had posted a win in Wisconsin over the Bulls Tuesday night.
Bogut, the former No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, has put together two solid, if unspectacular, seasons with the Bucks. Even more is expected out of him this year, however.
"It's a situation where I'm constantly reminding people that this would be his rookie year if he would have stayed in school," said Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak. "He's put on some weight and he's getting more and more comfortable with his game. I'm anticipating some positive things happening for him."
The Bucks struggled last year to a 28-54 record. Krystkowiak, a former Jazz big man, was promoted to head coach late in the season for Milwaukee. So far, Bogut has liked working for his new, hard-nosed coach.
"(Krystkowiak) brings toughness," said Bogut. "You guys remember him playing. That's how he coaches. He holds everybody accountable and he'll get in your face if he has to and he'll tell it like it is."
Bogut averaged 12.3 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds in 66 games last season. Krystkowiak, meanwhile, is hoping for more this year.
"A lot of time in a player's third year — especially with big guys — the light bulb comes on, they get comfortable in their skin and in their place in the league," said Krystkowiak. "(Bogut) has developed in the post and we are working on making things easier for him. Offensively, we haven't run a whole lot of things for him at this point. So what he's done offensively has been self-manufactured, but we're going to try to work on running some things for him as the preseason goes on."
Bogut is optimistic the young Bucks will be vastly improved over last season. One of the most intriguing players on the Milwaukee roster is Chinese star Yi Jianlian, the rookie 7-footer who won't turn 20 for a couple of weeks. He showed some of his promise by scoring 12 points in 27 minutes on Wednesday, making one of his two 3-point jumpers.
Yi's shooting touch and game have even drawn some comparison to Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki — even from the Bucks coach.
"They both have real similar shooting strokes," said Krystkowiak of Yi and Nowitzki. "They are both 7-feet tall, they are both good off the dribble. I've been really encouraged by Yi's defensive performance, too."
For his part, Bogut is tired of people using youth as a reason the Bucks have struggled.
"(Youth) shouldn't be an excuse," Bogut said. "We need to win basketball games."
It may only be preseason, but that's exactly what the Bucks did Wednesday night.