SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most pleasant surprises for the Utah basketball team so far this season has been the play of forward Tyler Rawson.
The 6-foot-10, 225-pounder didn’t get a lot of attention when he signed with the Utes after helping Salt Lake Community College to the national junior college championship and being named a third-team All-American.
But so far this year, Rawson has been putting up some solid numbers and has been a key player for the 6-2 Utes.
Rawson ranks fifth on the team in scoring at 10.1 ppg, is third on the team in rebounding at 6.4 per game and third in assists at 2.3 per game, while shooting 48.3 percent from the field. Oh, and he also leads the team in blocked shots with nine on the year.
Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak, who watched Rawson in high school and invited him to be a walk-on and then offered him a scholarship after his superb season at SLCC, has been happy with what he’s seen from the big man so far this year.
“I don’t know that he does any one thing great, but he does a bunch of things pretty darn well,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s one of our better passers and has a good feel for the game and making the right play. His is almost like the European game a little bit where he just knows how to play. He makes people around him better and is a guy you want to have on the floor and on your team.”
Utah's game against UC Riverside earlier this year was a perfect example of what Krystkowiak was talking about.
Soon after entering the game, Rawson took a pass in the post, but deftly pushed a touch pass over to Kyle Kuzma for an easy layup. A few minutes later he took a defensive charge in the lane, before hitting Kuzma under the basket with another perfect pass from 15 feet out. In the second half he showed his versatility by scoring inside and then stepping back to sink a 3-pointer. He got the biggest cheer of the night in the second half when he went high to swat an opponent’s shot out of bounds.
Rawson has had his ups and downs recently, scoring 14 points, including four 3-pointers, one of which tied the game in the closing minutes in the win over Utah Valley, but struggling with only three points at Xavier, where he was overmatched at the center position. Rawson should get to play his more natural big forward position when transfer David Collette joins the Ute lineup as soon as this weekend and will play the center position along with freshman Jayce Johnson.
Growing up in Utah County and attending American Fork High School, Rawson was a die-hard BYU fan, but the Cougars showed little interest in him. The Utes kept their eye on him in high school and offered him a walk-on scholarship, but Rawson opted to go to Southern Utah.
He averaged 8.0 points and 4.7 rebounds at SUU but wasn’t really happy and after one year came north to play at SLCC under coach Todd Phillips.
“It wasn't a great situation and when I knew I was leaving SUU, I contacted (coach Phillips) and he said ‘you can be one our best players,’” said Rawson. “So I put in a lot of hard work and I made it here (to Utah). It was a lot of fun, to win a lot of games at SLCC. We had a great group of guys and it reminded me of why I love playing the game.”
Phillips can’t say enough good things about Rawson, who averaged 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds while leading the conference in blocked shots (1.4 per game).
“His strength is he can do everything,” Phillips said, echoing Krystkowiak. “He’s stepping in and taking charges, he’s blocking shots, getting out and running. He’s a great passer, he can hit the three, he drives you on the perimeter, he can score in the post adequately and he’s a good foul shooter.”
The weakest part of Rawson’s game, according to Phillips, it’s that he is — as former Ute coach Rick Majerus used to say — unselfish to a fault.
“He’s not an aggressive scorer,” Phillips said. “He doesn’t want his own as much as he could.”
Although he grew up a BYU fan, Rawson was never pursued by the Cougars and he jumped at the chance to come to Utah.
“They made their choice. I was fine with it and I made a better one,” he said. “It’s like a dream come true. It was my goal to come here when they went to the Pac-12. I’m going against guys that make me better every day. I love it every day.”
Phillips, who has watched Rawson mature since his sophomore year of high school, expects him to keep improving during his two years at Utah.
“As the year goes on his game will continue to expand,” Phillips said. “He’s a kid who’s continued to grow and mature and I couldn’t be more proud of what he’s doing. He’s a great asset for the Utes.”