When Josh Sharp redshirted at the University of Utah during the 2008-09 season as a true freshman, he surely couldn’t have imagined how drastically things would change for him.
That year Utah finished in a three-way tie for the Mountain West Conference regular season title with BYU and New Mexico. Let by head coach Jim Boylen, the Utes also went on to win the MWC Tournament.
Sharp left to serve a mission to Houston following that season, and the Utah basketball program he came home to was vastly different from the one he was a part of. Boylen had been fired, and the program also went through a seemingly never-ending wave of players transferring to other programs.
“There was obviously a lot of changes that happened in the program and a lot of turnover there, so I would have only known two players going back and none of the coaching staff at all, and I had the opportunity to come here and that felt right,” said Sharp.
So, Sharp joined many other former Utes in transferring away, only he turned his allegiance from Utah red to BYU blue. The bizarre thing is that he isn’t even the only former Ute playing – and currently starting – for the Cougars. Guard Craig Cusick redshirted at Utah in Ray Giacoletti’s last season as Ute head coach (2006-07), served a mission to London, and then transferred to BYU upon his return. Unlike Sharp, however, Cusick did not immediately join BYU’s roster. Instead, he spent time on BYU’s practice squad before joining the team as a walk-on.
While Sharp and Cusick never played together at Utah, they do recognize how odd it is to now be teammates for the Utes’ hated rival.
“It is interesting, and we’re both definitely glad with the decisions we made, and we talk about that,” said Sharp.
While Sharp played last season, a sprained ankle kept him out of the Cougars’ win against Utah up in Salt Lake City. With the two teams now in different conferences and thus only playing once a year, he missed his only chance last season to go up against his old team, “which was kind of a bummer.”
He’ll get another opportunity to play the Utes on Saturday, however, when they visit the Marriott Center. The Cougars have won 10 of the last 11 games against Utah, with the lone loss coming during Sharp’s redshirt season with the Utes. The Utes appear to be much improved this season, and Sharp said the team definitely looks forward to in-state rivalry games.
He doesn’t necessarily expect to feel extra emotion because he’s going up against his old team, however. As it is, Jason Washburn is the only current Ute that was on the team when Sharp redshirted.
“We treat every game like it’s the most important thing, so in that regards, my game prep and stuff’s going to be the same as any other game,” said Sharp. “But it is a rivalry game. You know there’s going to be a lot of emotions there.”
As for how Sharp is doing this season, he has started in seven of BYU’s eight games so far and is much more active than he was last year.
“I definitely wanted to come in this season being able to help out the team more on the court, rather than just scout team and in practice and stuff, so it feels good to be able to contribute in a positive way,” Sharp said.
It’s a much different situation than last year, when he had the aforementioned ankle injury and also had to get readjusted after returning in June from his mission.
“It’s never fun getting back,” he said with a smile.
“You know, you think riding a bike around gets you [in shape], but it definitely wasn’t basketball shape,” Sharp continued with a laugh.
Sharp’s bread-and-butter play this year seems to be him cutting down the lane to the hoop without the ball while Brandon Davies has the ball around the key. Time and time again, Davies has dished the ball to an open Sharp for an easy layup.
As for whether that play is something they’ve set out to do, or just something that’s happened because of all the defensive attention that Davies gets, Sharp said it’s a little of both.
“In our system, we like to cut and have a lot of movement, and Brandon draws a lot of attention. He’s such a good player that when people come and double him, a lot of times when I cut I’m open, and he’s a great passer. So yeah, I’ve been able to do a lot just cutting off of Brandon.”
Lone Peak pride
A former Lone Peak Knight, transferring to BYU has allowed Sharp to play with a couple former high school teammates in Tyler Haws and Nate Austin, who both graduated one year after Sharp. Sharp is happy to be reunited with the two.
“It’s good, ‘cause it wasn’t just high school too,” he said. “I’ve been playing with Ty since almost elementary school and stuff, so we have that really good connection on the court and off the court.”
So does it feel like Lone Peak all over again?
“Sometimes. We’ve moved up a little bit here,” said Sharp with a laugh. “But it’s really cool being able to play with those guys.”
He also follows and continues to root for his old high school team, which has been a powerhouse out on the court and is looking to repeat as state champion. The team is loaded with future BYU Cougars, including Nick Emery (brother of former Cougar Jackson Emery), T.J. Haws (brother of current Cougar Tyler Haws and son of former Cougar Marty Haws), Eric Mika and Talon Shumway (who will play football in college). The BYU connections don’t end there, with former Cougar Andy Toolson’s son Connor also playing for Lone Peak, although he hasn’t committed to a college.
With all the Lone Peak players’ connections to BYU, Sharp is understandably very familiar with them.
“T.J. and Nick are just outstanding guards, just shoot the crap out of it, and Eric Mika is just a strong, big athletic guy down low,” Sharp said.
Given all the BYU-Lone Peak connections, and Lone Peak’s dominant run of late, it’s only natural for the former Knights on BYU’s team to brag about their old team. But Sharp said with a grin that it’s really more a case of the other guys trying to bag on Lone Peak and tease the former Knights whenever they do something wrong (“Oh, those Lone Peak guys …”).
“But we’re proud of where we come from and Coach Lewis, the coach that helped us to where we’re at,” Sharp said.