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The City Journals

New dad, NBA prospect and Murray High graduate David Collette has quite a story to tell his son

Apr 09, 2018 12:15PM ● By Carl Fauver

Murray High and University basketball player David Collette battles for rebounding position. (U of U Athletics)

Seven years ago, about all prep basketball star David Collette had to worry about was not tripping on his graduation gown, as he accepted his Murray High School diploma and prepared to leave for his LDS Mission in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But times change.

Now, the best basketball player to ever come out of MHS not named Johnsen has a new baby – his first, with wife McElle – along with memories of his first-ever trip to New York City, for an appearance in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) final four, at fabled Madison Square Garden. 

And when his son is old enough to understand such things, Collette can tell him a story that starts with “every University of Utah basketball fan knew exactly when you were due to be born.” The story can end with, “that’s why, son, every cloud has a silver lining.”

Due to irritating things called “deadlines,” this story is being written the day (March 22) after the University of Utah defeated St. Mary’s in Moraga, California (just east of Oakland), 67-58 in overtime, to punch their ticket to the Big Apple. But, unfortunately, this is also the day before McElle was to give birth – after being induced into labor – nearly a week past her due date. It’s also five days before the Utes’ first NIT semifinal game since 1992.

As you read this, those things have happened. Most important, hopefully the new mom and baby are well.  Secondarily, perhaps Utah is the NIT champion. 

But just reaching the final four makes that silver lining about as bright as can be for a Murray graduate who was disillusioned by a coaching change at Utah State, following his only season in Logan, after returning from the mission field. Collette left Cache Valley after being voted Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2015. Then he had to pay his own tuition at the University of Utah for a year, when he lost a season of basketball eligibility (due to NCAA rules) along with the accompanying scholarship money.

That first major basketball cloud, came with a silver lining named Larry Krystkowiak.  

“I was recruited by Utah and Utah State (as a Murray High senior) and finally decided to join (head coach) Stew Morrill’s team, in Logan,” Collette said. “When he recruited me, I understood he would be around for my entire career. So when he left after that first season, it didn’t feel like a good fit anymore. Thankfully, (University of Utah head basketball) Coach K remembered me and welcomed me here.”

Once his basketball eligibility was restored, Collette started every game healthy for the Utes, over two seasons. This year, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound center was named to the All Pac-12 second team. 

But just when all appeared sunny, Collette’s second big cloud came on Senior Night – the Utes’ final regular season home game vs. Colorado – March 3.

Utah earned its 19th win of the season, but Collette played only seven minutes – and left on crutches – after severely spraining his ankle.  

That might well have been his final memory of the Jon M. Huntsman Center, if not for the next silver lining.

By losing their opening Pac-12 tournament game to Oregon, Utah was denied an invitation to the NCAA basketball tournament – another cloud. But that also left the Utes with their NIT bid, and the opportunity to play two more home games in Salt Lake.

Despite the severe ankle sprain just five days earlier, Collette started that conference tournament game vs. Oregon, scoring 16 points in the loss. Afterward, coach Krystkowiak had very little positive to say, except when it came to Collette’s courage.

“He played great,” the coach told the Las Vegas media throng of Collette. “Did you see his (swollen) ankle? There ain’t too many people who are going to be playing on that. So I give him a helluva lot of credit. I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

With his ankle improving, Collette’s next silver lining allowed him to return to Utah, to be near his expecting wife and to change those final memories of the Huntsman Center from the injury, to a pair of NIT victories (69-59 vs. UC Davis and 95-71 against LSU).  Collette scored 18 points in the two wins. More importantly, he left the Utes’ home court for good, sans crutches. 

“It was nice to get two more wins there and to leave (the Huntsman Center) the right way,” Collette said.

Those victories led to the Utes’ quarterfinal win at St. Mary’s… and also to Collette’s latest cloud. After leading Utah in scoring in the first half against the Gaels, Collette suffered a back injury just before halftime and could not play in the second half or overtime. But he said he’d be ready for the NIT semifinal game (vs. Western Kentucky).

“I just bumped (my back) the wrong way,” Collette said. “It’s been an ongoing problem. But I’ll be ready (for the next game).” 

Regardless of how the Utes placed in the NIT final four, the former Murray Spartan has a lot of basketball still ahead of him.

“I definitely want to play next year, in the NBA or Europe,” Collette said. “I have a few leads that should get me into some NBA combines and workouts. But I most likely see myself going overseas.” 

Pac-12 Coach of the Year Krystkowiak has all the confidence in the world it will happen.

“David is a very coachable player,” Krystkowiak said in an email.  “He is a very hard worker and competes day-in and day-out. His awareness around the basket (has) shown great strides over the course of the season. If he keeps his mind to it, David can have a successful basketball career after college, whether that be at the NBA level or overseas. As long as he continues to work hard, he will be a great player.”

It was 20 years ago when another former Murray High School basketball star was in the final four. Britton Johnsen was a freshman on that 1997-98 Utah team that fell to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game. He went on to play a few games in the NBA, before his skills took him to Spain, Greece, France, Turkey and elsewhere.  

Now, arguably the best player to come out of the Spartan program since Johnsen – and his older brother, Jeff Johnsen – faces a similar European possibility.  His final four tournament (the NIT) is different. But Collette’s desire to carry on the Murray High professional sports legacy is the same.

Exciting times for Jeff and Diane Collette, who followed their son to New York to watch the final game(s) of his collegiate career.

“My parents have come to all my home games and have been so supportive,” Collette said. “It’s been great to share this with them. And my brothers and sisters have come to games when they could also.”

Collette’s parents still live in the same Murray home he shared with them. He is the youngest of seven (four girls/three boys) and the only one to play college sports. However, one brother was a high school wrestler while the other also played in the Spartan basketball program.

“They’ve been busy raising families,” Collette said of his older siblings. “My new son (is) my parents’ 23rd grandchild.”  

Collette calls Krystkowiak “one of the greatest coaches anyone could play for.” But he also adds, there was another big coaching influence, earlier in his life.

“I loved Jason Workman,” David said of the veteran Murray High School head basketball coach. “He’s such a great guy and good coach. He won a Coach of the Year award my senior year, when we reached the state semifinals. And when colleges started to recruit me, he was a big help.”

Workman said the admiration goes both ways.

“Before becoming head coach, I was an assistant in the program, going back to the years when Jeff and Britton (Johnsen) were here,” Workman said. “My all-time best Murray alumni basketball team would start with David and the Johnsen brothers.”

But Workman added, Collette was much more than a skilled player.

“David was very coachable and worked very hard,” the coach added. “He’s stayed in touch with our program and even attended four or five of our games this year. It’s great to have a homegrown success story. Lots of kids (in the Salt Lake Valley) shift all over to attend different schools for athletics. But David is Murray, through and through.”

At least for now. 

“My wife is very supportive and we’re ready to move just about anywhere – at least for a few years – so I can continue my basketball career,” Collette added. “If you are good enough, there’s decent money to be made overseas. But our roots both run deep in Utah, so I’m pretty sure this is where we will return someday.”

Perhaps in time to tell his son the silver lining story of what Dad was doing around the time he was born.

After deadline note: Collette and his wife McElle welcomed their first child into the world. Rowan William Collette, a 8-pound, 13-ounce baby boy, arrived around 1:30 p.m. Friday March 23. The Utes also defeated Western Kentucky in the semifinals to face Penn State for the championship.