Utah senior forward David Collette said with a straight face that Saturday’s game against Utah State will be “just another game.” He wouldn’t admit to having this game circled on the schedule, marked on the calendar or in any way set aside in his mind.
Collette, a 6-foot-10 Murray High graduate who began his collegiate career playing for the Aggies, had a contentious parting of ways with the program two years ago. This weekend, he’ll face the program and the coaching staff he left for the first time since he transferred when the Utes (6-2) and Aggies (5-5) clash in the opening game of the Beehive Classic at 5:30 p.m. at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“Yeah, we all know I transferred from there, but when it comes down to it – it’s just another game,” Collette said following practice on Friday. “Just like all the other ones.”
When Collette began his career with the Aggies, he played for legendary coach Stew Morrill. Collette showed promise early on with the Aggies. After redshirting and then going on a two-year LDS Church mission, he started every game and ranked second on the team in scoring (12.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.0 rpg) as a freshman in 2014-15. He landed on the All-Mountain West Third Team.
Then Morrill retired and his longtime assistant Tim Duryea took over, and Collette decided to transfer two days before the start of the 2015-16 season. At the time, Collette had been outspoken about not being happy with the way Duryea was running the program.
Because of the timing of Collette’s decision to transfer right before the season, Utah State didn’t grant a release from Collette’s scholarship. Collette had to sit out his sophomore season as well as the first semester of last season after he transferred to Utah.
Collette will see familiar faces on the other side Saturday, including former teammates such as Quinn Taylor, Julian Pearre and Alex Dargenton as well as members of the coaching staff, including Duryea. Collette insisted that won’t play a role in how he approaches this game.
“There’s a few guys I know, and I’ve kept in contact with some guys, but really for the most part that’s not really who I am,” Collette said of the game having extra emotion attached to it. “I moved on from there. This [Utah] is where I am. This happens to be the next game I have. We’re doing our game plan, and we’ll go in and execute it just like all the other games. Get it done.”
Utes freshman forward Donnie Tillman noticed a fire in Collette during practice.
“You could see he’s finishing more, he’s taking his time on the block,” Tillman said. “I think he didn’t make one mistake today. He’s really focused. I can’t wait to see him play.”
Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak referred to a rather pointed film review session of Tuesday’s loss at Butler as the reason for Collette’s added focus in practice.
Duryea downplayed the Collette connection on Friday while speaking to reporters in Logan.
“It is what it is,” Duryea said. “Every year and every season, you get so invested in the team you are coaching in the season you are going through. Everything else is so far in the past that it is even hard to remember that far back. We are focused on our team, presently. ... We have so much on our plate with this current team, anything that happened two or three years ago is really hard to remember.”
Saturday’s game will be the first time the Utes and Aggies have played since 2010. The teams have previously played 223 times, the second-longest series with any Aggies opponent in school history. While the Utes lead the overall series 128-95, the Aggies have won seven of the past 11.
“There’s a lot of pride, and people talk about bragging rights and all those types of things,” Krystkowiak said. “I think that’s something that’s the result of these games. It’s not something you think about going in.
“Certainly, basketball in this state is at a fever pitch, and the athletic side of it when you have the rivalry games always seems to be enhanced. It shouldn’t be one that we have to come with too many crazy speeches and motivational tactics. I think guys will be excited to play on both sides.”
UTAH STATE vs UTAH
Tipoff • Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Location • Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City
TV • Pac-12 Network Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah State 5-5, Utah 6-2
Series history • Utah leads 128-95
Last meeting • Utah State won the last meeting, 79-62, on Nov. 24, 2010, in Logan.
About the Aggies • Sophomore guard Sam Merrill, a Bountiful graduate, has scored in double figures each of the last eight games, and has averaged 17.1 points per game during that stretch. For the season, Merrill has shot 48 percent from the field and leads the team in assists (33) and steals (10). … Sophomore guard Kobe McEwen, who played high school basketball at Wasatch Academy, earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year and honorable mention All-Mountain West last season. He posted the highest scoring average by a freshman in school history (14.9 ppg). … Utah State will be playing its third in-state opponent of the season. USU lost to Weber State in the season opener and lost to BYU on Dec. 2.
About the Utes • Utah is coming off of its second loss of the season. They fell 81-69 at Butler on Tuesday night in Indianapolis. Both Utah losses have come away from the Huntsman Center. Saturday’s game will mark Utah’s first game of the season against an in-state opponent. … Freshman forward Donnie Tillman has scored 10 points or more in seven consecutive games, including a season-high 20 points at Butler. Tillman enters the weekend ranked second on the team in scoring (12 ppg) and leads the team in rebounding (6.9 rpg) off the bench. … Senior guard Justin Bibbins, a graduate transfer from Long Beach State, has averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 assists per game in his first eight games with the Utes. Bibbins has shot 38 percent from behind the 3-point arc.