Texas has been good to the University of Utah on the gridiron, producing stars such as Brice McCain, Joe Dale, and 2009 Sugar Bowl MVP Brian Johnson. Success in Texas is not limited to football, as Utah basketball is starting to reap the benefits of recruiting Texas.
A pair of true freshman from the Lone Star State are already key contributors for Utah basketball. Guard Marshall Henderson has started every game, averaging 11.5 points per game playing 26.7 minutes while forward Shawn Glover has been a valuable role player off the bench. Glover started the first seven games of the conference schedule when Kim Tillie was injured. Since his first start against TCU, Glover is averaging 4.3 points in 14 minutes a game.
Henderson and Glover are both from the same area of Texas, and played high school ball within 30 miles of each other. Despite that proximity, the two could not be any more different on and off the court.
Henderson is a brash, confident shooter who has never met a shot he wouldn't take. Henderson loves to talk and wears his emotions on his sleeve, which has made him a target. Henderson's emotions got the better of him during his first game against rival BYU, as Henderson took a swipe at Cougar guard Jackson Emery. The resulting dead ball flop by Emery was Oscar-worthy, but Henderson's actions rightfully earned him a one game suspension from head coach Jim Boylen. "Marshall Henderson made a mistake, plain and simple," Boylen said about the incident.
Glover, on the other hand, is calm, quiet and prefers to let his game speak for him. Glover is a terrific athlete who glides effortlessly on both ends of the floor, and has such a good feel for the game that the ball seems to find him. Both have experienced similar growing pains in adapting to life in Utah, on and off the court.
"Its weird going out in the community and people knowing who I am and going 'hey what's up Marshall, good game the other night' or 'we're looking forward to coming to see you play,'" Henderson said. Despite the cold and snow, Henderson loves the overall experience. "Utah in terms of basketball has been awesome, it actually has been better than I expected it to be. I didn't realize the workouts would help me as much, I didn't know I would get as much playing time as a freshman as I am, and everything has just been pretty much perfect and I wasn't expecting it to be like that right off the bat as soon as I got here. It's been great."
Another challenge the freshmen had to overcome was integrating within the unique social structure of the Utah program. With players from California, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, and Utah, that would be a big enough challenge. Add in the Frenchman Tillie and Serbian guard Luka Drca, and there is an international flavor and multicultural uniqueness to the Utes that took time to feel out. "At the beginning of the season it was tough, we were trying to figure out everyone," Henderson said. "We've pretty much figured everybody out right now, how everyone plays, and we're starting to mold together. It took a little longer than we hoped."
The basketball season has not quite gone as either envisioned, as the Utes have struggled with consistency and an inability to break away from the .500 mark. Currently the Utes are 10-11 and have countered big wins of programs such as Illinois, Michigan, and LSU by dropping games to Seattle and Idaho. The inconsistency has been frustrating to the players. "It's been real tough, we've had issues and some games where we've been good one game and bad the next, so we have to be more consistent. It's been tough," Glover said. "When the lights are on you've got to perform. We need to take every game, take the rest of the season game by game and play hard."
Developing that consistency is something the team is working on and will be a work in progress throughout the rest of the season. For Henderson, one of his biggest challenges is adjusting to the overall life of a major college basketball player. "The biggest challenge is definitely the practice and preparation that goes into each day and each night, it goes from game to game," Henderson said. "After one game you're turning right around and getting ready for the next. Off the court with classes and being on the road and all this stuff it's kind of tough trying to do it all at the same time."
Glover is working hard on becoming an all-around player, and working to nail down the mental aspect of coming to play every game. "Staying consistent, staying tough mentally, that's where a lot of freshmen struggle so that's what I'm working on," Glover said.
Henderson feels the same as Glover about the mental aspects of the game, but trusts that the system will help as the players get more comfortable with and trust each other. "Well, the system we play, it helps every single position and every single position has a help from the other positions. Coach Boylen has an NBA system and it works."
Adapting to his ever changing role as a starter or key sub has opened Glover's eyes as well. "I've realized how hard I have to play," Glover said. "I've been trying to work, I had to step up [because of injuries]. Just trying to do my part, play hard, guard, the basics. [As a starter] it's tough, you have to start the game off ready to play. You know you're going to play but you have to be ready to play mentally. On the bench you're watching and stuff, you can adjust to what's happening on the court if you're paying attention and when you start you have to play hard and set the tone from the get go. Either way you're doing what you can to win the game."
No matter what happens between now and March, Henderson and Glover have found a home outside of Texas, and are looking forward to playing the next few years together. "We talk about it every day, that we're going to be here starting with each other for four years, it's already like we have chemistry," Henderson said. "It's different as can be but a great place to be," Glover said. "We have a great coach and we have a great program. It's building right now but in a couple of years we're going to take off."
The Texas connection for Utah football began when a pair of freshman, Johnson and Robert Conley arrived in 2004 and quickly developed into All-Conference performers. With the immediate success Glover and Henderson have enjoyed, Utah basketball might be heading down the same path. As Henderson puts it, "if you're coming for basketball this is the perfect place."