Ute sophomore Donnie Tillman is taking a big step forward as a shooter

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak likes the look of Tillman as a sophomore.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Donnie Tillman (3) shoots past Missouri Tigers guard Terrence Phillips (1) during the game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Utah forward Donnie Tillman eagerly discussed his volume of shooting and how much he improved this past summer. So it was logical to ask him to do some math: How many shots would he take in a day or a week?

Right subject, wrong phrasing. The better question, as Tillman suggested: “How many makes a day?”

As he explained, “I just don't do shots.”

How many makes in a day, then? Hundreds, occasionally even 1,000.

Those numbers develop confidence, and Tillman has it. The Utes officially started practicing last week, building toward the start of Tillman's sophomore season Nov. 8 vs. Maine.

While missing seven games in December and January due to a foot injury and illness, the 6-foot-7 Tillman showed signs of becoming a dependable player. His ambitions go beyond that description, explaining why he tried to expand his game over the summer.

In 28 games last season, Tillman averaged 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20.3 minutes; he made 9 of 28 attempts from 3-point range.

“He's just one of those guys that's going to be better because he's not a freshman,” Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “The fact that he's a sophomore, assuming he didn't do anything to improve … just the fact you're coming back in a familiar environment makes you better, and then tack on all those other parts that he did develop and improve on, I think he's going to be a heck of a player in this league. Kind of under the radar, a little bit.”

Krystkowiak likes Tillman's new look, “hitting out of the park in the weight room and getting his body fat trimmed down,” he said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Donnie Tillman speaks with the press during media day at the Ute basketball practice facility on Wed. Sept. 26, 2018.

In addition to getting stronger, Tillman wants to play smarter and more patiently. He’s expecting to be involved in more pick-and-roll plays with the ball in his hands, and he’s convinced that improved shooting will complete his skill set.

I had everything else; it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s hit the open three; let’s become a great shooter.’ ” said Tillman, who’s from Detroit via Findlay Prep in Nevada. “I’m just trying to stay consistent.”

That’s clearly the next phase for Tillman. His playing time fluctuated in his freshman season, and so did his performance. He once posted 14 points and eight rebounds against Washington, then played only seven minutes amid foul trouble in the next game. His uneven statistics continued in the NIT, but he played well in New York. Tillman had eight points and 10 rebounds in a semifinal win over Western Kentucky, then added six points and six boards in Utah’s loss to Penn State in the title game.

Tillman said he went right back into the gym after the season, wanting to improve. He knows that as a sophomore, he will be higher on opponents' scouting reports. The good news? That information soon will say he’s a better shooter.


Key dates in Utah’s basketball preseason:

Oct. 11 • Pac-12 Media Day, San Francisco.

Oct. 17 • Night with the Runnin' Utes, 7 p.m.

Nov. 1 • College of Idaho (exhibition), 6 p.m.

Nov. 8 • Maine, 7 p.m.