Provo • Josh Sharp is on the quiet side, and rather unimposing despite being 6-foot-7. When he’s not on the basketball court, he is even a little bit timid, rarely answering questions about his playing style and ability with more than a sentence or two.
But about 18 months ago, Sharp unknowingly sparked quite a firestorm in the Utah-BYU rivalry while he was in Texas wrapping up an LDS Church mission by simply going from one side to the other.
The Ute became a Cougar.
“I definitely made the right call. I haven’t regretted it at all,” he said earlier this week. “A lot of people ask me if I didn’t like it at Utah. That’s not the case at all. I enjoyed it there. Coming home from my mission, it was a decision I had to make, and I made the right one. I love it here at BYU, and I love the coaching staff and the players.”
Although Sharp was a walk-on who redshirted for the Utes in 2008-09 and didn’t have a single Division I offer out of Lone Peak High School, his switch became national news as college basketball writers around the country expressed shock that a player could jump from one rival to another. More than one blogger said it would be like a player transferring from Duke to North Carolina or vice versa.
Locally, radio talk shows and Internet message boards were filled in May and June of 2011 about the legality of the transfer, whether BYU coaches contacted Sharp on his mission (they insist they didn’t) and why the Cougars suddenly wanted the rail-thin 185-pound redshirt freshman when basically the same staff didn’t want him out of high school.
New Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak added fuel to the fire when he issued a statement indirectly accusing BYU of recruiting Sharp while he was on his mission, and saying “it creates an atmosphere of ill will.”
Last December, Sharp had a sprained ankle and could only watch from the bench as his new BYU teammates trounced the Utes 61-42 the first time the rivals met as nonconference foes. But this year, Sharp figures to play a prominent role in the rivalry game, which tips off Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Marriott Center. Sharp has emerged as BYU’s starting power forward — a bit of a surprise in and of itself — and posted a career-high 13 points in last week’s win over Montana.
After mostly declining last year to talk more about why he left Utah and the circumstances involving the controversial transfer, Sharp addressed the issue head-on Tuesday. He said he started to consider other options when the coach who recruited him to Utah — Jim Boylen — was fired after the 2010-11 season and more than a half-dozen players left the team.
“There had been a lot of change there, obviously, and huge turnover in that program,” Sharp said. “Only two players that were on the team when I was there were still there, and I didn’t know any of the Utah coaching staff. And then, I knew a few of the players that were here at BYU, and I liked the environment and the culture of BYU. That was a big appeal to me.”
Sharp acknowledged that he and his family were disappointed when Krystkowiak did not contact them until more than two weeks after he was hired, despite visiting a prep standout near their home in Highland a few days after he got the job.
“When he got the job, it took a while [to hear from him],” Sharp said. “When I started making decisions, and it looked like I was going to be leaving Utah, I started getting letters from them, but not any other communication before that.”
Sharp says he “probably would have made the decision to leave” either way, but it was “definitely something to think about, that after [Krystkowiak] got the job, he took his time talking to parents and stuff.”
Kryskowiak declined comment when asked about Sharp on Friday, except to say that “this is about BYU and Utah, and not about any one individual.”
Whatever the case, the Cougars (5-3) know they will have their hands full with the 6-2 Utes, who pounded Boise State 76-55 on Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center. BYU has won its last six games against Utah, all by double digits, and 10 of the last 11.
“I spent a lot of time [Wednesday] watching Utah film,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “It is a much-improved team. They are extremely good on the defensive end, very patient offensively. They share the ball really well. Their shot selection is tremendous. … We will prepare for them … and get ready for a tough game on Saturday.”
Tribune reporter Tony Jones contributed to this story.
Utah at BYU
P At the Marriott Center (Provo)
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv; Radio • 700 AM, 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 5-3; Utah 6-2
Series history • BYU leads 127-125
Last meeting • BYU 61, Utah 42 (Dec. 10, 2011)
About the Utes • They are coming off a 76-55 win over Boise State in which Loyola Marymount transfer Jarred DuBois scored 18 points. … Freshman Jordan Loveridge is fifth in the Pac-12 in rebounding with an average of 8.1 boards per game. … They are first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, giving up just 57.2 ppg. … They have not won in Provo since Jan. 31, 2005.
About the Cougars • They have defeated Utah six straight times, and all six wins have been by 13 points or more. They have won 10 of the last 11 meetings with Utah, and coach Dave Rose is 24-6 against in-state opponents. … Tyler Haws is ranked in the top 15 in nine of 13 statistical categories tracked by the West Coast Conference. … Ex-Ute Josh Sharp scored a career-high 13 points last week against Montana.
Josh Sharp’s improvement
Season GP FG-A Pct. FT-A Reb Pts
2011-12 28 9-23 .391 14-23 1.4 1.2
2012-13 8 21-35 .600 6-9 4.8 6.0