The uncontrollable joy for the game has remained evident on the face of Utah senior forward Tyler Rawson throughout every game this season, with the possible exception of when a foul call has gone against him — his incredulous scowls are second to none in the Pac-12.
The unconventional path Rawson has taken to Utah has given him plenty of reasons to flash the big toothy smile of someone who has reaped the rewards of having remained steadfast in chasing his dream amidst doubts.
A 6-foot-10, 230-pound American Fork resident, Rawson will be one of five Utes seniors — along with Gabe Bealer, Justin Bibbins, David Collette and Jake Connor — honored prior to Saturday’s regular-season finale against Colorado on Senior Day at the Huntsman Center.
Rawson’s path to mainstay in this season’s starting lineup included a late growth spurt (he graduated high school at 6-foot-8 and about 200 pounds), stops at Southern Utah and Salt Lake Community College and a season coming off the bench for the Utes.
“I’ve always kind of been a late bloomer. That’s just how I’ve always been, developing late, but I’m always developing,” Rawson said with a chuckle.
This season, Rawson has been arguably the Utes’ most important player because of his versatility. He has led the team in rebounding (6.8 per game) and blocks (1.0 per game), ranked second in assists (3.9 per game), third in 3-point shooting (37.1 percent) and fourth in scoring (10.9 ppg).
“Last summer we discussed how much time he spent mopping up the floor with his skinny little butt and that he needed to put on some weight,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Rawson. “He addressed that in the weight room, got after it.
“He’s been a workhorse. I don’t know that he has missed a practice. I’m certain that he hasn’t missed a practice, and that goes back to the beginning of August before we went overseas,” the Utah coach added. “And he has been a glue guy. There’s a lot of guys that you feel like are a little bit indispensable, but I don’t know where we’d be without Ty in a lot of categories.”
Rawson first caught Krystkowiak’s attention while the coach attempted to recruit Rawson’s high school teammate Ryan Andrus, who ultimately chose to attend BYU. Rawson committed to Southern Utah, his lone scholarship offer, prior to his senior year.
Rawson was an all-state honoree who helped lead American Fork to back-to-back state semifinal appearances and was named his team’s MVP as a senior. In a 30-point rout of Viewmont in a tournament game in the Huntsman Center, Rawson threw down a couple of loud dunks in a 13-points, 10-rebound, six-assist and six-block performance.
“Out of high school [Utes associate head coach Tommy Connor] was actually talking to me a lot about offering me a walk-on spot, and I really wanted a scholarship ... so that’s why I chose Southern Utah,” Rawson said. “After I was done there and went straight to Juco, coach Connor was one of the first coaches to come and be like hey, we’re interested and I want to see how your game progresses.”
Rawson’s mother, Carol, still remembers a note Krystkowiak sent to her son after watching him in high school. Krystkowiak applauded Rawson’s hustle and focus. Carol, a former BYU volleyball player, appreciated that recognition from Krystkowiak, particularly when it seemed so many focused on scoring averages. Rawson averaged a modest 7.5 points per game during his high school career.
One season at Southern Utah helped Rawson build the confidence that he could compete at the Division I level. He’d also sprouted up another two inches since the end of his junior season at American Fork and stood 6 foot 10 when he transferred to SLCC.
“I was so mad at him as a mom when he made the decision to go to SLCC,” Carol said. “I was like, ‘That is the stupidest thing. Why would you leave a Division I program and go to junior college?’ I was not on board with the idea at all, but in hindsight it really was a pretty courageous step by him. He said that I think I can be better and be in a better situation. I’m just going to take this step.”
Rawson trusted himself and his decision. He earned junior college All-American honors at SLCC and led the team in scoring (15.9 ppg), rebounding (8.3 per game) and blocks (1.4 per game) and led his team to a national championship.
Carol Rawson believes that each stop along the way has helped her son on and off the court. Academically, he struggled that first year at Southern Utah, and his options were limited when he first went to SLCC. Time management and school work were as much a part of his development as his time in the weight room and improving his jump shot.
“It’s just been rewarding to see him be able to reach his goals and to be in a place really no one believed he could be this year, other than those really close to him,” Carol Rawson said. “Who would’ve guessed that he would be playing on a Pac-12 team, and be a starter and really be a difference-maker on the team this year?”
COLORADO AT UTAH
Tipoff • Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Colorado 16-13, 8-9, Utah 18-10, 10-7
Series history • Colorado leads 27-21.
Last meeting • Colorado 67, Utah 55 (Feb. 2)
About the Buffaloes • The Buffaloes stopped a three-game losing streak with an 80-76 win over UCLA on Feb. 25. They shot 14-of-30 from behind the 3-point arc. … Freshman guard McKinley Wright IV was named Mr. Minnesota Basketball last season for Champlin Park High School. This season, he has averaged 14.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He scored 21 points in a win over Utah on Feb. 2. … Senior guard George King has averaged a team-best 8.0 rebounds per game. King recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds against the Utes in February.
About the Utes • The Utes haven’t lost to Colorado in Salt Lake City since 2012, the first season both schools joined the Pac-12. Colorado went on to win the swept the season series that year and went on to win the Pac-12 Tournament. … Senior guard Justin Bibbins ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in scoring (16th, 14.1 ppg), assists (fourth, 5.0 per game), 3-pointers (second, 3.6 per game), 3-point shooting (second, 44.3 percent) and assist-turnover ratio (second, 2.6-1). … Utes senior forward David Collette enters the weekend shooting 62.8 percent from the field, which ranks among the top-10 all-time single-season shooting performances in program history.