Utah basketball: Utes' L.A. natives hope to shine in trip back home
Three members of Utah's starting lineup are from Los Angeles.
Dakarai Tucker and Brandon Taylor grew up USC fans, and can still hum the Trojans' fight song if pressed. Delon Wright loved UCLA and saw many of his friends go play for the Bruins over the years.
None of them ever received an offer from the L.A. schools, paving the way for them to come to Salt Lake City and still play under the bright lights of the Pac-12.
Utah travels to USC on Thursday night to face the Trojans at the Galen Center. When Utes do, it will be the first time back home for the trio, the first time they play in front of all their family and friends. For once, Tucker's mom and dad, or Wright's father Ray won't have to hop flights to see them perform. All they'll have to do is take the trip downtown.
"It's going to be fun," Taylor said. "I'm looking forward to being able to play in front of the people I love. It's going to seem weird at first, but we're just out there to try and get a win at the end of the day. So that's where our focus is going to be."
All three were lightly recruited coming out of high school. Tucker was the closest to receiving an official offer. He was told by the Trojans to go the junior college route, after which a spot in their program would be waiting.
Wright went across the country to prep school, then to San Francisco for juco ball. Taylor had two major offers leaving high school (from Utah and Saint Mary's) and chose the Utes. When Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak signed Taylor and Tucker in the spring of 2012, he was criticized by some fans who saw the players' lack of other scholarship offers as a sign that they didn't merit one from the Utes either. But both have become starters and key components to a team that's 16-7 overall heading into this week, one that has a shot at a postseason tournament of some kind.
"Hopefully, the kids enjoy the moment and enjoy playing in front of family and friends," Krystkowiak said. "I don't think I'm going to have to calm them down or rev them up. They know what's at stake, so their focus will be simple: the team, rather than having an ax to grind."
Utah is attempting to reach the .500 mark in conference play for the first time since Jan. 4, when the Utes defeated Oregon State at the Huntsman Center. The matchups against the Trojans and then the Bruins will be the second of the season for Utah.
"We know that we can't let down at any point for the rest of the season," Tucker said. "USC plays very well at home, so we can't look at their record. We need to find a way to win on the road, and that's what we're concentrating on. Trying to get that road win."
Utah at USC
O At the Galen Center, Los Angeles
Tipoff • Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network. Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 16-7 (5-6); USC 10-13 (1-9)
Series history • USC leads 17-16
Last meeting • Utah 84, USC 66 (Jan. 16)
About the Utes • Utah is attempting to win its first road game of the season. â¦ The Utes are 4-9 against the Trojans in Los Angeles. â¦ The three Utah players from Los Angeles have combined to start 65 of 69 games this season.
About the Trojans • USC is 8-1 on the season when Nikola Jovanovic scores 10 or more points. â¦ USC is 0-4 in the last two weeks despite leading in the second half of each game.