Averaging 2.9 points per game in 9.6 minutes per game, JUCO transfer Renan Lenz was the closest thing to a bright spot Utah had against Stanford Sunday. In 23 minutes Lenz scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds, had one assist, three blocks and two steals versus just one turnover.
Lenz has sporadically put up similar performances, including a season-high 10 points against Sacramento State. The key word is sporadic, which doesn't only apply to Lenz, but rather to the entire team.
If his junior college history is any indicator, Lenz is capable of consistent performances. Lenz was Arizona Western's leading scorer at 13.9 points per game and also averaged 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
That kind of performance is something the Utes have been missing through their up and down season. However, at 9-11 and 1-7 in conference, the Utes would take any measure of consistency, even at a lower level of production than Lenz' JUCO numbers.
With the pre-season injury to All-everything center David Foster, Jason Washburn was left once again with the sole responsibility of holding down the fort in the paint for the Utes.
Early in the season, the emergence of sophomore transfer Dallin Bachynski surprised everyone, pleasantly. However, as quickly as Bachynski emerged, he disappeared, leaving the Utes with the same void left to fill.
Utah's other two big men, Lenz and Jeremy Olsen each came into the season with obstacles related to weight and conditioning. While the two big men have made huge strides in that arena, Lenz has another hurdle to get over.
"When I came here, I thought I was going to be something else," said Lenz, referring to the fact that he was not what would be considered a traditional post-up center.
With the ability to hit from long distance and a rare touch for a big man, Lenz had looked to provide a change-up and compliment to Foster and Washburn. With a penchant for outside shooting Lenz looked to be a match-up challenge for opponents and as such, didn't focus on his post-up game coming into the season.
Understanding the talent level and athleticism in the Pac-12, as well as Utah's lack of depth in the post, Lenz has spent his first months in the program developing his post game.
"After the conditioning, my focus has been working on getting better in the post. Part of that is getting bigger and stronger. When I came in, I had to lose 20 pounds of bad weight, and now I'm working on bulking up, getting stronger an putting on the right kind of weight," Lenz said. "That's hard, because at the same time I'm trying to get quicker, faster, become a better athlete.[Charles Stephenson] keeps telling me all the time that he wants to make me a better athlete, so that's been my main focus."
Aside from the conditioning aspect of Lenz' progression, the 6-foot-9 center is also working on the technical aspects of playing the post, and perfecting his moves in the paint.
"There's a lot that I'm learning and trying to get comfortable with down there. I've played the post, so it isn't all new, but at this level, it's still a challenge," Lenz said. "Another big thing, maybe the biggest thing is mental. With my confidence, it wasn't that high earlier in the season, but it's growing a little bit. I'm starting to get more and more confident as time goes on."
While the physical and technical aspects of the game are factors, the mental aspect may yet be the soft-spoken big man's biggest hang-up.
"I'm working on all of those things, but the main thing is just knowing I can do it. I'm getting that, because going up against these bigger, more athletic guys and I'm starting to feel like I can hold my own," he revealed. "I'm still a long way from where I want to be, I know that. I need to be much better, but I'm satisfied with the progress I'm making. I can tell I'm getting better all the time, and I think its mental toughness as much as it is physical toughness. That's a big part of what I'm trying to develop, my mental toughness because I think that makes the rest of what I'm trying to get done easier."
In the midst of this three-fold focus, Lenz hasn't had the same success shooting from outside to this point of the season, and hasn't yet established himself as a solid, consistent post-up big man. In short, Lenz is somewhere in between; not exactly playing the role he once did, and to which he is more accustomed and not yet the forward he wants to be. Amongst all his challenges, this may be chief among them.
"I haven't been discouraged or intimidated by going through all of this, I've just been working hard and keeping positive. I'm willing to do it, because its what I want, and what our team needs," Lenz said convincingly. "The hardest thing for me is just trying to figure out what my role is on this team. I'm not playing the same role here that I'm used to playing, so finding that niche is something I'm still trying to do. You have to adjust and be flexible, and I think I'm doing that. I just have to find where that is, and what that is and do the best I can there."