Utah basketball: Jeremy Olsen shakes off mission rust, makes an impact for Utes
Boylen’s last Utah recruit shaking off mission rust to see his minutes increase.
Published: February 1, 2013 11:42AM
Updated: May 21, 2013 11:31PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes center Jeremy Olsen (41) is seeing increased playing time for the Utes. According to Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak, he is a natural in the post.

By nature, Jeremy Olsen is quiet and reserved. He’s never been a fan of talking, instead preferring to get things done in a workmanlike manner.

Olsen holds the honor of being the very last recruit of the Jim Boylen era at Utah. His transition to college basketball at Utah has been slow and patient.

It hasn’t always been easy: The 6-foot-10 freshman has spent a good chunk of this season outside of Larry Krystkowiak’s regular rotation. But as the Utes prepare for Colorado on Saturday afternoon at the Huntsman Center ­— a game where the school will officially retire the sweater of Rick Majerus — Olsen has worked his way into more minutes He has improved significantly at both ends of the floor and been rewarded as a result.

He’s becoming another example of Krystkowiak’s penchant for developing big men.

“It’s been kind of neat and fun to see,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s had to shake the rust off and had to acclimate himself to the speed of college basketball. But he’s come a long way in a short amount of time. He’s got a lot of upside.”

As the only player on the roster returning from an LDS Church mission this season, Olsen has been on a steep learning curve. He’s had to lose weight. He’s had to regain strength. This year has been his first bit of live competition since 2009, when he played his high school basketball in the Atlanta area.

But Olsen also may have the most complete set of low-post skills on the team. Krystkowiak calls him a “throwback” in the paint. He plays with his back to the basket, has soft hands, and is crafty around the hoop.

He saw action in only two of the first 11 games. But he has played in every Pac-12 game but one, including a season-high 21 minutes in last week’s home loss to Stanford. In his limited time, Olsen has shown a nice ability to catch passes in traffic and finish among the taller post players of the Pac-12.

“It was hard at first,” Olsen said. “I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of things, get the mission fat off and the rust off. I knew I had the skills in the post, but not quite the strength. I just wanted to get better and do the things that coach asked me to do.”

Unlike many of his Boylen-era teammates, Olsen never considered leaving for another school when his college coach was fired. He said Krystkowiak made it clear while he was on his mission that he would be a key part of the Utes’ rebuilding puzzle when he got back. Olsen is now a part of the Utes’ three-headed center, which includes Jason Washburn and Dallin Bachynski.

Olsen was born in Sandy, but moved to Atlanta when he was 7 and spent his years growing up in one of the basketball hotbeds of America.

As the season has progressed, Olsen’s role has expanded. When Washburn graduates, Olsen figures to be counted on to provide a presence in the lane next season and beyond.

“Right now, I just have to go in and play hard,” Olsen said. “I have to go in and provide energy off the bench.”

tjones@sltrib.com

Colorado at Utah

O At the Huntsman Center

Tipoff • Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

TV • ROOT Sports. Radio • 700 AM

Records • Utah 9-11, 1-7 Pac-12; Colorado 14-6, 4-4

Last meeting • Colorado 53, Utah 41 (March 7, 2012)

About the Buffaloes • Andre Roberson leads the Pac-12 in rebounding, averaging 11.6 per game. … Colorado has won six games against teams with top-100 RPI’s.

About the Utes • Utah will honor Rick Majerus at halftime by retiring his famous sweater. … Utah leads the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense. … Jordan Loveridge is questionable with a hyperextended knee. … Utah is third in the league in assist to turnover ratio.