Tag Archives: The Ghost of Jack Gardner

Waxing Seniority: Jason Washburn

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12’s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

The Ghost of Jack Gardner has been following the Utah Utes program since his days as a coach and now far beyond. His blog is a wealth of Ute knowledge, nostalgia, and hoops.

The college basketball career of Jason Washburn is a play of Three Acts. We first knew him as the four-star center from Battle Creek, who Jim Boylen recruited while an assistant with Michigan State.  He stood out as the energetic redshirt on the Utah sideline, often standing on his feet waiving a towel. That was the 2008-09 MWC Championship team led by Luke Nevill, Lawrence Borha and a promising newcomer named Carlon Brown.

Things were looking very bright for the future of Utah basketball.  The 2009-10 season was greatly anticipated by the fans.  Washburn made his playing debut in the Huntsman Center in a loss to Idaho. He played alongside Carlon Brown and the 7’3″ returned missionary, David Foster. Another newcomer, Marshall Henderson, also made his debut for the Utes that night with 18 points.  But Washburn stole the show.  He came off the bench and scored 20 points and pulled down 7 rebounds in 26 minutes.  As I said, the future looked bright.

End of Act I.

Washburn never got close to 20 points again for the next two years.  In fact, he only scored in double digits ten times over that period.  He was known to Utah fans and opponents as: 1) Soft; and 2) Enthusiastic.  It was so funny to see him lead the team in energy and cheering while on the bench, but then see him get pushed around by smaller players on the court.  He had no defensive presence, didn’t fight for rebounds and couldn’t finish in traffic.  I admit he was known for some time by yours truly as “Jason Heartburn.”

Yet he never lacked for enthuasism.

Those were Utah’s last two seasons in the Mountain West Conference, and the last two seasons of Jim Boylen’s tenure.  A mass player exodus ensued that spring.  Henderson, Clyburn, O’Brien and Glover all transferred.  We had no idea what our innaugural Pac-12 team would look like.  When the dust settled, we had a new coach, and entirely new roster, a returning juco named Jiggy, the oft-injured Chris Hines . . . and Jason Washburn.

Almost by default, Jason Washburn was the leader of the 2011-12 Runnin’ Utes.  His minutes increased and so did his production.  He was still soft but slowly improved offensively.  But fans didn’t expect much out of him at this point, especially since 2011-12 was a throwaway season.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened — I think it was during the Arizona game in Tucson when something finally clicked. I think Washburn was tired of losing and tired of getting pushed around.  No doubt about it: with just a few weeks left in the season, something suddenly changed.

End of Act II.

Washburn finished the season on a complete tear, which has carried through this year. He’s been a consistent scorer and has had several double-double games.  And his defense has stepped-up big time.  Each time Utah has found itself in a position to win, Washburn is always in the middle of things. There have even been a couple times I believe he would have been the Pac-12 Player of the Week if only Utah could have converted close losses to wins.

Utah fans love him.  But his biggest badge of honor is that opposing fans hate him.  And that just makes us love him even more.

Not to mention his love for the fans and for the school. He recently sat down with the Deseret News and discussed his decision to stay at Utah two years ago when many teammates were leaving:

“There was plenty of times where I was just ready to break down and throw my hands up in the air and say ‘I can’t do this any more’ just because we had so many guys leave . . . Even though I hold no grudges against anyone that left. They all did it because it was best for them and you can’t hate someone for that.”

“I put my head down and fought through the turmoil. Why couldn’t you? If I can take anything from my career I can be proud of myself for knowing that not only did I stick with my teammates and my coach and my new coach, I stuck with this program and this fan base. I know I can walk away proud of that.”

On a few occassions, I’ve taken posession of the body of some loitering Utah fan after a game to congratulate Washburn personally. The guy is genuine and loves interacting with the fans.  He’s the kind of guy you love to cheer for.  For that reason, he has become one of my all-time favorite Runnin’ Utes.

My only regret is he won’t be around next year for a fourth Act — when, I believe, Utah will finally turn the corner.

Ghost Blog: Jack Gardner on Utah v. Arizona

Arizona hosts the Utah Utes Saturday afternoon. This is a rivalry that takes me back a spell and I have some couch memories of Arizona v. some Van Horn squads. I was also in Anaheim for the first of two crushing Elite Eight losses in that arena. That’s always fun to rehash. No it’s not.

Alas, with these two squaring off again and a season removed from Utah nearly knocking off the ‘Cats in McKale…

Friends and fellow Pac-12 fans: Please excuse this interruption.

I am the Ghost of Jack Gardner. I have taken possession of Mr. Butler’s mortal body and this blog in order to share with you some thoughts about the Runnin’ Utes this year.

As you are well aware, the Utes recently suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Arizona State. They now head to Tucson for another herculean test. In anticipation of the matchup against Arizona and in order to help you get to know this Utah team, I wanted give my perspecive.

I understand a priest is already on his way to Mr. Butler’s home with the holy water and book of ancient rites. So without further ado, here’s my breakdown:

The Utes had a tough loss against ASU on Wednesday night. Arizona squeaked out a victory against Colorado. Utah is still learning how to win close games. Arizona wills itself to win close games, even those games it seemingly has no business winning. I would be shocked if the Utes give Arizona much trouble. But if the game does happen to be close, I don’t see Utah having the “clutchability” to defeat a more talented Arizona team. In all of Utah’s losses this year, except for the road loss at SMU, Utah’s offense broke down when the game tightened up. So what do I expect to see Saturday afternoon?

Andre Miller is not walking through that door. Utah is a much better team than it was last year. Jordan Loveridge is a good-looking freshman who will have a great career at Utah. Senior Jason Washburn had 19 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 blocks against ASU on Wednesday night, and Cedric Martin is a “glue guy” who plays tough defense. But this is not Majerus’ Utes. Utah does not have the talent to stay with Arizona. Not even the triangle and two can save the Utes this year, especially in Tucson.

Utah plays tough defense. Utah has played an inside-out man-to-man about 85-90% of the time this year. Utah is one of the few teams that switches most screens, which can create mismatches inside. But then it sags its bigs inside where Washburn and the other big guys can help. Most of Washburn’s blocks last game came out of this scheme, coming over to help an over-matched teammate. This worked well against ASU because the Sun Devils couldn’t shoot well from the outside (4-18 from three) and Utah could suck everyone in around the basket. But when teams hit their outside shots, then the Utes have to extend the defense. When the Utes are forced to extend its defense, this opens up driving lanes and teams have hurt the Utes with driving layups and drives and kick-outs for open threes.

When Utah doesn’t go man-to-man, it plays a tight two/three zone and dares teams to beat them from the outside. The Utes don’t press much, though they did effectively implement a 3/4 court trap in the second game against SMU, which changes momentum and helped Utah beat SMU in the second game of their home and home with the Mustangs (yes, Utah played SMU twice). I don’t expect Utah to try to press Arizona.

Utah doesn’t have a go to guy. The Utes don’t have a single go-to guy when the game tightens up. In close games, the offense tightens up and the Utes struggle to get good shots. And Utah does not have a single player who can create his own shot. In the ASU game, Utah went to Washburn twice in its final possession and he threw up a  couple of 12 foot hook shots in the middle of the lane. Jarred DuBois, a senior transfer from Loyola Marymount, has tried to take over in close games. But he has not been successful in trying to carry that load. Loveridge has the potential to be “the guy,” but he isn’t there quite yet.

Utah is successful when it controls the tempo. If Utah can control the tempo and keep the game in the 50s or low 60s, it has a chance to keep the game close. Utah did a good job controlling the tempo in its overtime loss at ASU. But Arizona knows how to win games. Utah doesn’t. Even if Utah manages to keep the game close, these simple facts will make the chances of a Utah victory in the range of slim to none.

You are invited to follow more of my ghostly rantings at my blogsite: www.tgojg.blogspot.com. But for now I must be going before I end up in a herd of swine.

So yeah while the Utes did give Arizona some fits last year in both contests, they are a far different team now and they’re coming off a game that I think just might light a fire under their arse.

Arizona rolls.