U of U Sports

Utah basketball: Utes sign Las Vegas forward Donnie Tillman

First Published      Last Updated Apr 13 2017 04:13 pm

Donnie Tillman’s mother laid out a grim reality years ago for him: If he wanted to go to college, he had to find a way to pay for it himself. He took it to heart.

"It was ‘study hard and play hard,’" Tillman said. "Coming from Detroit, nothing is expected of you. It means a lot to me and especially the people in my family, going to be a DI kid and playing at a big school. It’s emotional."

Tillman, a 6-foot-7 three-star wing, has officially signed with Utah basketball, which both fulfills a long-held dream of his and gives the Utes a potentially explosive addition for next year’s team. Tillman wore a bright red bowtie on Wednesday as he signed his paperwork alongside his mom in a private celebration.

As a senior at Las Vegas powerhouse Findlay Prep, Tillman averaged 14.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and shot 62 percent. He could potentially play the three- or four-spot next year depending on Utah’s personnel, and he’s expected to make an early impact.

"I’ve got big plans," he said. "I’ve been watching a little film, working on changing direction and staying low. I think I’ll have the ball in my hands more. I have to prepare for all of that."

So far, Tillman is the only player signed to the Utes who will join this fall. In-state prospects Branden Carlson and Jaxon Brenchley signed in November, but are both serving LDS Church missions prior to beginning their Utah careers.

Depending on whether Kyle Kuzma returns, Tillman could be asked to help fill a production void both in scoring and rebounding.

"They want to send me up in the right spots to score," he said. "They want some rebounding from the wing, probably like 8 to 10 rebounds a game. Defensively I need to bring intensity and just be in the right spots."

Tillman said in the last year, he’s worked on his ball-handling, pick-and-roll actions and 3-point shooting (15 for 29 last year) in an effort to be more versatile. But Utah sees his physicality and athletic ability as his bread-and-butter strengths.

If Kyle Kuzma returns for his senior year, it might allow more flexibility to play either or both he and Tillman on the wing. Tillman said he’s lobbied Kuzma to come back.

While Tillman said fellow Michigan native Devon Daniels leaving the program "was a little sad" for him, he added that he’s been close also with Utes Chris Seeley and Jayce Johnson in addition to Kuzma. He’s also continued close relationships with DeMarlo Slocum and Larry Krystkowiak, attending several of Utah’s late season games.

"We’ve got big things in the future," he said. "I’m excited to get started."

With the addition of Tillman, Utah is still looking to fill three scholarship slots this spring, and possibly a fourth if Kuzma goes pro.

Twitter: @kylegoon