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March 15, 2013

Foster finishes long chapter at Utah

Utah center David Foster and Utah Basketball have been tied together for the better part of a decade. Like any marriage or relationship, especially one which has lasted almost eight years, this marriage had its ups and downs, probably more downs than ups. So for this one to have ended, the emotion for Foster is, in its truest sense, bittersweet.

"I have loved this place, this program, these fans, this team for so long that it has become a huge part of my life. I'm still young, but this time here has been the largest time investment of anything else, by far, of my entire life," Foster said. "At the same time, I could never sit here and say this his been easy or fun, because we've probably had more hard times than good ones. Part of me is filled with a sadness, or a loss, but the other part is almost relieved. It's relief that I can finally close this chapter of my life, be done with it and move on to what's next."

After great hopes dashed and high expectations unrealized, Foster's career at Utah came to a close without so much as barely a mention. For Foster, there will be no New York Times article about a might-have-been career ala former Ute quarterback Jordan Wynn, whose career was also injury-riddled.

While deserving of recognition, Wynn's legacy at Utah will prove to have been far less impactful and far reaching than that of Foster's which is a sad truth that few may never know, or understand.

Out of sight, out of mind, they say.

The old adage proves to be true, as Foster hasn't put on a Utah jersey, or played a game since March 10, 2011 when Utah fell to San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament 64-50.

When he suited up that day, he almost certainly had no inkling that it would be the last of his collegiate career, and his final stat line read 3-5 shooting from the field, seven rebounds, three personal fouls, six points, 1 turnover and four blocks in 20 minutes of play.

There was no way that anyone could have prognosticated the hard knocks and tough breaks that life would dole out to the quiet, steadfast 7-foot-3 center who had been physically blessed with NBA size, and by extension, a ready-made career at the next level. Following that final, fateful game, Foster would not suffer one season-ending injury, but two.

Though Foster's last performance was under-underwhelming he was at that time, still on track to achieve or even eclipse all the he sought to prior to choosing to play his collegiate career at Utah in 2005.

Sixteen days prior to his last game, Foster reached a huge personal milestone, becoming Utah's all-time career block leader in a 50-48 win over TCU in which he blocked three shots.

Heading into that contest, Foster sat at 204 career blocks, just one shy of former Ute great and then-record holder Luke Nevill, who had tallied 205 in his career. Through just three more games, Foster would block another 12 shots to finish his career at 219 blocks-as a junior.

The record is likely to stand for some time, and is astounding in that it was done in just two years, a fact that lingers and hovers like an unpleasant odor; that odor left by the most dreaded question in all of sports, or even life - what if?

What if Foster hadn't been injured for two consecutive seasons? What records would have have re-written, or how much further out of reach might his accomplishments have been had he been able to finish out his four years at Utah? More importantly, could he have helped carry the Utes through some of their darkest years, or at least kept them from sinking as low as they dipped?

The answers, of course, are more troubling than the questions themselves, and the answers are: no one will ever know.

What he did accomplish in his two short years will leave a lasting impression, having garnered numerous All-Conference, All-Defensive teams, Defensive Player of the Year honors in his time, and so to say that his career was disappointing wouldn't be fair, or accurate. The only disappointment stems from the fact that his already promising career was so cruelly and un-deservedly severed; cut short when a great career might have been stellar had it been allowed to play out.

Each respective injury brought different emotions and reactions out of Foster, the first brought disappointment and frustration, but borne of that was a motivation and drive to return even stronger once rehabilitated.

"The first one, was hard, of course. At first, it hit me hard, but I knew that I still had next year, more time so that was something to work for," Foster recalled. "I took it in stride, and just tried to use the time to better myself physically, and to learn the game from the sidelines. I tried to turn it into a silver lining kind of situation, and again, I thought I had next year."

While the sentiment is admirable, and certainly genuine, it was much more challenging in execution than in word, and of course, we know now, there would never be a next year for Foster.

By all accounts, his foot injury had healed well; Foster was ready and poised for a big season-his next year. Instead, it was season that would end before it ever began, as he once again suffered an injury to the same foot he had just spent a year rehabilitating.

What should have been devastating, strangely, wasn't for the soft-spoken, grounded center.

"The second time, I think it was weird because it should have been worse, it should have been harder on me than it was. But I think for some reason, the second time around, it was harder on my wife, and the people around me," Foster confided. "It was really much harder on my loved ones, and I kept thinking 'there's something wrong with me'. I kept asking myself 'what's wrong with me?' because I just wasn't as upset as I think I should have been, or as people might have expected."

Foster came to realize that the driving force behind his courageous acceptance of the difficult circumstances he had been asked to endure were both personal and spiritual in nature; and not nearly as complicated as one might have thought.

"What's helped the most is the birth of my son back in May. That changed my entire life. It changed my whole outlook, because whether I'm injured or healthy, and whether I can play basketball, or I can't - his needs stay the same," Foster revealed. "That gave me perspective. It put me in the mind-set that I had a son to take care of, and not just that, but a wife. So to sit around and pout, or worry about not being able to play a game was just selfish. And it seemed silly, when you put it all in perspective."

Beyond the perspective Foster's son brought to the situation, his faith or spirituality has helped him come to terms with the difficulties he has faced in his time at Utah. In fact, this realization has even been a blessing in disguise.

"The one thing I have learned through all of this that has been really huge is not to be afraid of adversity, or of life's challenges. I know now that I have been blessed with an ability to persevere and to do it with calm, and patience. I know that other people have worse problems, or bigger things than not being able to play basketball," Foster revealed. "But that has been the obstacle that was put in front of me, and I've learned that God has given me an ability to handle this. I'm a true believer that He doesn't give you more than you can handle."

With a strong love for, and appreciation of Utah Basketball, Foster hopes that his impact and hard-lessons learned will last far beyond his departure.

"I guess the legacy I would want to leave here is not to waste a single day, and to give everything you have every time you're out there. That's how you leave with regrets, and I'm proud that I can say that I don't have any, but I would want that for all of my former teammates, and for the young guys coming into the program," Foster said. "I would also like for people to remember me as someone who kept his commitment, and who loved this place and these fans. I'd want them to remember me as someone with a strong work ethic, who always gave everything I had. Mainly, when I had opportunity after opportunity to leave, and I stayed, mostly because I'm a Ute. I love this program, and I love this University."

Each of Foster's teammates have lined up in advance of Senior Day to discuss Foster, and what he has meant to the program, and to each of the personally.

"You don't see Big Dave around here that much, but even when he's not here, he's here. He's always here, and I think he's one of those guys who have jerseys hanging in the rafters whose memory is always going to be in this gym," said redshirt freshman Jeremy Olsen. "What he has taught me, and everyone on this team about life, on and off the court, you can't put that into any words. I couldn't really say how much I've learned from him, and how he's come in this season in hard times and helped calm things down."

For fellow center Jason Washburn, who has without question spent the most time with Foster of any current team member, Foster's impact is also immeasurable.

"Literally everything that I am today is because of Foster. He is the opposite of me in every way. He was a defensive guy, I was an offensive guy. He was quiet and consistent, where I have been emotional and at times, all over the place. You couldn't ask for two more opposite guys," summarized Washburn. "Having him as the guy you go up against every day evened me out, and evened me out personality-wise. Off the court. I can literally say that when I'm around David Foster, I want to be a better person. I know that sounds crazy, but he's someone you want to make yourself worthy of, and someone you don't want to disappoint, but he's not judgmental or critical. It's just what you want to do, he just makes you want to be better."

For troubled, emotional center Dallin Bachynski, who in many ways mirrors Washburn as a freshman, Foster has been critical in his development, both athletically and personally.

"Dave was really the one who kind of approached me when I decided to step away from basketball, and going through all that stuff. He really took me in, and had me over to his house for dinner with his wife, and he just talked to me," Bachynski admitted. "He really changed my perspective, and his advice and that he would take the time out of his life for me was huge. He taught me so much, and just all the knowledge and wisdom he has accumulated in his life is kind of jaw dropping. I don't know if I would still be on the same path if it wasn't for him and all of the help he gave me."

As for head coach Larry Krystkowiak, his sentiments about Foster echo all the others', but perhaps, runs even deeper.

"Well, I don't know what you could even really say about a guy like that. He's been a guy who has been there 100%, and helped us kind of make the transition, which was critical. Dave has been a guy you could count on in all situations, and he's a guy you want in your foxhole, watching your back," Krystkowiak referenced. "When things get difficult and stuff really starts flying, you learn what people are all about, and I learned everything I needed to know. I'm really sad for him and the struggles he's been through, but he's a person who is going to be fine no matter what he does. He's a person who doesn't need to play basketball professionally to be OK, because this is someone who already knows how to succeed, and I know he'll do that regardless of what he does."


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