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Utah basketball: Ute seniors seek win in home finale

SHARE Utah basketball: Ute seniors seek win in home finale

When the Utah basketball team takes on Colorado State tonight at the Huntsman Center, three players will be making their final appearances in the red and white.

One, Johnnie Bryant, has been a main cog for the Utes since arriving as a junior college transfer three years ago and will go down as perhaps one of the Utes' top 20 all-time scorers (he currently ranks 22nd).

Another, Sayre Brennan, has played just a handful of minutes in two years after coming to Utah as a walk-on from a junior college in New York.

Then there's Chris Grant, a local kid out of East High School, who has experienced the high of Utah's Sweet 16 appearance in 2005 and the lows of consecutive losing seasons and is finishing up as a rare-of-late four-year player in the Ute program.

Grant joined the Utah basketball team in 2004 as a walk-on, shortly after completing an LDS mission. He was part of the Utes' 29-6 team led by Andrew Bogut and Marc Jackson, playing 17 games and making one start.

The following year he started 16 games for Ray Giacoletti's team and put up his best numbers, ranking in the top 10 in the MWC in assists. Last year, his minutes dwindled and this year even more under first-year coach Jim Boylen.

While it may have been frustrating at times for Grant in his senior season, he has loved the experience.

"I'm definitely sad to see it come to an end," he said. "I will remember being able to live a dream I had as a kid. I will remember all the highs and lows and challenges. I will remember the relationships and friendships with players and coaches and the support from a wife and family and the local community."

Grant is one of the captains of this year's team and has been a valuable asset to Boylen with his leadership skills and as Boylen puts it "a coach on and off the floor."

"He has unbelievably bridged the gap of player, leader, friend, not only with me and my staff, but with the team. I've never even seen that before in a guy who doesn't even play much. That's a credit to his personality and the respect he is given on this team for the person that he is."

While in the back of his mind Grant may wonder if he could have brought something to the Utes' guardline this year, he understands coach Boylen needed to play younger players to build his program.

"This is definitely more than I ever expected," he said. "I never even expected to make the team. I didn't think I'd have the chance to play four years."

Boylen wishes he could have played Grant more but felt he had to play younger players such as freshman Carlon Brown.

"I'm sure that's disappointing to him, but he's handled it well," Boylen said. "He never has complained about playing time.

"He's always ready when called upon. In the NBA, you'd call him a pro's pro. He's a terrific kid, who puts the team first.

"I wish I had him for three more years."

Bryant was a starter for two years before agreeing to a sixth-man role this year. For him, his experience at Utah has been "bittersweet" because the team has struggled much of the past three years.

"It's been fun playing here and receiving an education," said Bryant, who still has hopes to play in the postseason. "If I had it all to do over, I'd do it again."

Brennan had no connection to Utah but heard about the school from a friend and decided to go West. He's only played in nine games this year and scored just one point, but he's enjoyed it overall.

"I've been happy to be part of the program," he said. "Playing for coach Boylen has been a great experience."

GAME NOTES: The Utes beat CSU in Fort Collins 67-52 after jumping out to a 33-13 halftime lead ... The Utes are tied with Air Force and TCU at 6-8 in MWC play ... After tonight, the Utes conclude their regular season Saturday night at UNLV.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com