Discover more from The Pick and Roll
Will Andrew Bogut's college career ever be surpassed by another Australian?
Bogut put together an extraordinary NCAA career at the University of Utah. Will another Aussie ever exceed what he achieved?
Andrew Bogut’s junior basketball story is one that most Aussie hoops fans have heard at some point. Surprisingly cut by the Victorian state team at age 15, Bogut rapidly ascended the basketball ladder and became a first overall NBA draft pick, in 2005. But before he became a Milwaukee Buck, the Melbourne native developed his craft at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), and subsequently joined the University of Utah.
Bogut was scheduled to join the Utah Utes midway through the 2002-03 season, at just 18. However, he couldn’t quite obtain clearance from the NCAA, and thus targeted a debut in the following 2003-04 season. Bogut’s commitment to Utah reportedly expired during the delay, and he had no shortage of professional suitors, but to his credit, the Aussie stayed true to his word.
To put Utah’s recruiting coup into perspective, Bogut was arguably the world’s best under 19 player. At the 2003 FIBA Under-19 World Championships, he led Australia to a somewhat unexpected gold medal, while averaging 26.3 points and 17.0 rebounds. In the group stages, Australia trounced a talented American side - featuring future NBA studs Deron Williams and J.J. Redick - by a score of 106-85. Bogut enjoyed a field day against the American front court, logging 22 points and 18 rebounds.
In the mid-2000s there was no such thing as the G League Ignite team, and the NBL was still some ways off its Next Stars program. As an Aussie big man hoping to crack the NBA, Luc Longley was the blueprint for Bogut to follow, and thus college basketball became his default pathway. Sure, Chris Anstey had managed to earn a first round selection in 1997, directly out of the NBL, but going pro would mean missing out on the attention of American media, and to a lesser degree American scouts.
The Pick and Roll is an independent reader-supported publication. To receive new stories and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Bogut burst onto the college scene as an 18 year old freshman, instantly becoming Utah’s top rebounder and second scoring option. He averaged 12.5 points and 9.9 boards (3.2 offensive) while shooting 58% from the field, and even showed flashes of passing ability, with 2.2 assists per game. The big man won Freshman of the Year honours in the Mountain West Conference, and once again the lure of turning pro was strong. So strong in fact, that newly hired Utah coach Ray Giacoletti flew out to Melbourne during the 2004 offseason, hoping to engineer a Bogut return.
“I'm going to go one more year at college or Europe, I haven't decided. I'm not ready [for the NBA] yet. I'm just looking at different options, it's always good to look at another option and obviously the money there [in Europe], but that's not the main reason I want to go. I want to get to the NBA, and I'll take the best and quickest path to get there,” Bogut told the Daily Telegraph, during the 2004 offseason.
Bogut wasn’t completely satisfied with his rookie collegiate season, despite putting up impressive numbers and earning freshman honours. He was already an NBA prospect at that point, and Europe seemed like an attractive alternative to an extra year under then-Utah coach Rick Majerus. Giacoletti’s hiring at the end of the 2003-04 season changed Bogut’s perspective, especially when the former made a big first impression, by flying out to Australia and meeting his family.
“I was at a crossroad of coming back to the University of Utah. I felt like I was kind of sold a lemon with everything I had expected coming in. At times, under coach Majerus at least, I didn’t feel like I could play my natural game, and I just lost a lot of confidence, playing in that system sometimes,” Bogut shared, on his aptly titled podcast “Rogue Bogues”.
“So I was at a cross road of ‘do I just go pro straight to Europe for a year, and then go to the NBA, or do I enter the draft?’ I was a late first round [to] early second round projected pick at that point, and then Ray [Giacoletti] got the job.
“He really didn’t have to say anything when he got to Australia, to be honest. It was just the gesture that he got on an 18-19 hour trip one way, and then back, so 40 hours – just to look me in the face and say we want you here. That was kind of enough for me [to know I wanted to come back to Utah].”
Bogut’s decision proved to be a masterstroke, as he increased his NBA draft standing from fringe first rounder to first overall pick, after running it back with Utah. While his freshman impact was way above par for an 18 year old, that season didn’t move the needle in terms of Bogut’s all-time status, among Australians in the NCAA. It was the following 2004-05 season that cemented Bogut’s legacy as Australia’s greatest ever college player, to a point where he may never be surpassed.
The then-19 year old kicked off his 2004-05 campaign at the Athens Olympics, averaging 13.7 points and 9.0 rebounds for the ninth placed Boomers. After emerging as a nightly double double threat against grown men, the games would have presumably given Bogut a major confidence boost.
“I remember leaving that Olympic group and just coming back to Utah, and just saying ‘no one in college basketball can guard me, [and] no one can stop me’. And I just had the mindset of being absolutely dominant, because I felt like now I was coming back to play with kids,” Bogut added.
Utah basketball revolved around Andrew Bogut in the 2004-05 season. The Aussie posted gaudy averages of 20.4 points, 12.2 total rebounds and 3.7 offensive rebounds, while shooting 62% from the field. With a blend of imposing size, above the rim athleticism and strong rebounding instincts, opposing defences couldn’t do much to stop the big man. He could put the ball on the floor, finish inside with either hand and occasionally intrigued scouts with a post move.
But Bogut wasn’t just your typical seven footer. His passing ability was unlike that of most big men, and an assist average of 2.3 per game sells him short. On his podcast, Bogut interviewed Giacoletti and credited his former mentor for offering creative freedom. The talented centre often found himself positioned in the high post, a place from which he could find cutters, or hit open men on the perimeter.
“It was the first time I was played in the higher post, at any point in my career. I think it was a perfect fit for me, to see the floor, and kind of be facing the basket. Especially with the Princeton offence, [which] for me was a godsend to an extent. It was just constant backcutting, and slips, and I could see all that and throw all those passes,” Bogut explained, on the Rogue Bogues podcast.
Giacoletti heaped praise upon his former pupil, describing the Melbourne native as a generational passer for his size.
“The thing that I most remember is, you were maybe the best passing big man I’ve ever been around. What other people probably would have thought was crazy - playing you at the high post - evolved into something pretty unique and special,” Giacoletti added.
“And the other piece of it was, to be able to get you from the high post to the low post at different times in the shot clock, where teams couldn’t beat the heck out of you. I saw in the tape from your freshman year, that when you had run to the block, you would just get mauled down there. But, [I was] trying to get you there maybe in the last 10-15 seconds of the shot clock. You were such a good passer out of double teams, that you just thrived in [the system].”
One could argue that Bogut was ahead of his time as an offensive facilitator. His passing vision was reminiscent of European great Arvydas Sabonis, but the Aussie could also run the floor in a pinch, and elevate for an explosive dunk. It wasn’t an uncommon sight to see Bogut hanging off the rim in the 2004-05 NCAA season. As a scorer, he also ventured out to the three point line, and made 36% of his shots from beyond the arc. Sure, Bogut only attempted 0.7 treys per game, but we’re talking about an era where seven footers rarely shot threes.
Defensively, Bogut once again filled the stat sheet, averaging 1.9 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. His athleticism was often on display with emphatic blocks that resembled volleyball spikes. However, by his own admission, the younger Bogut was labelled a “defensive bust”, as he couldn’t afford to foul out of games. Utah was heavily reliant on him as the number one offensive option, and you can’t accumulate stats on the bench. However, Bogut later became a defensive standout in the NBA, where he made the All-Defensive Second Team in the 2014-15 season, and averaged a league-high 2.6 blocks in the 2009-10 season.
“I got labelled as a defensive bust coming out of college – in college I couldn’t afford to foul out, because I was a 20/12 guy. I probably could’ve been better defensively but I couldn’t really afford to foul,” Bogut said in 2019, on the Locked on Bucks podcast.
Bogut’s individual brilliance unsurprisingly translated to team success with Utah. The Utes finished the 2004-05 season on a 29-6 record and reached the round of sixteen (Sweet Sixteen) in the NCAA tournament. Although Utah weren’t destined to be NCAA champions, Bogut picked up an array of individual trophies, including the prestigious Naismith and Wooden awards - given to the best player in college basketball.
Bogut’s earned the rare distinction of winning such awards as a sophomore - something only a handful of other guys had achieved at the time. His draft stock skyrocketed throughout the course of the 2004-05 season, and it quickly became clear that there would be no junior year in Utah. Bogut was destined for the NBA, and became Australia’s first ever home grown number one pick, when the Milwaukee Bucks selected him.
Given the extraordinary success Bogut experienced as a 20 year old college sophomore, one must wonder whether his NCAA career will ever be surpassed by another Aussie. In 2022, NBA prospects have more predraft options than they know what to do with. While college basketball is still the default pathway for most NBA hopefuls, the NBL’s Next Stars program has emerged as a world-class alternative, and the burgeoning G League Ignite team is another.
Professional leagues have always offered NBA prospects the chance to play against grown men, but this was never a major trump card. Up until the advent of the NBL Next Stars and G League Ignite programs, the vast majority of draft candidates chose the college route anyway. The NBL changed the game with an A$100,000 salary and various perks for their Next Stars - including cars, flights and individual development. In response, the G League upped the ante with a US$500,000 salary and their own development program, as well as a more predictable experience. College players and NBL Next Stars are at the mercy of pro coaches scrambling for wins, whereas Ignite prospects enjoy greater certainty in terms of playing time.
“There’s no right way [to get to the NBA] anymore, and I think that’s a good thing. The right way back when I played was, if you wanted to get in the NBA, you would go to college and you would hopefully get drafted. Whereas now, you can go via the NBL [or] Europe [to give a couple of examples]. Brandon Jennings was a teammate of mine [in Milwaukee] who went via Europe. You can go via high school and college like Ben. You can go via high school and play G League for a year,” Bogut told The Pick and Roll, in an interview earlier this year.
College basketball will always find a way to attract top tier talent. Tyrese Proctor for instance, is Australia’s leading 2004-born prospect and a Duke University recruit. The shifty guard acknowledged that Next Stars and Ignite were appealing opportunities, but still chose to join a storied NCAA program. Basketball has transitioned into an era where teenagers face an array of pathways to choose from.
Even for those that choose the traditional college route however, matching Bogut’s career is a near insurmountable task. Ben Simmons for instance, was the #1 high school player in America, according to ESPN, but left college after his freshman year. His numbers were impressive, but without any accompanying team success, and only one season on his college resume, Simmons couldn’t match Bogut’s accolades. Elite NBA prospects seldom stay beyond their freshman year, and less likely to experience the sophomore leap that Bogut enjoyed.
Bogut’s NCAA career will likely remain the gold standard for Aussies in college basketball, for a long time. If anyone does manage to put up comparable numbers and win games, while sweeping individual awards as a sophomore, they will undoubtedly be looking at a lottery selection in the NBA/WNBA draft.