LLOYD: UVU savoring year of men’s basketball successes, see it as key step
For nearly 20 years, I’ve watched the athletic department at Utah Valley in its two iterations (as a state college and as a university) work to get what Aretha Franklin vocalized in her well-known anthem.
The Wolverines have a number of staunch supporters but one of the most loyal and visible is Utah Valley University president Astrid Tuminez.
She drew national attention when the ESPN broadcasting crew repeatedly showed her waving green pom-poms and enthusiastically cheering on the Wolverines during last week’s NIT men’s basketball quarterfinal game against Cincinnati.
That continued on Tuesday as she was interviewed live by ESPN2 at the NIT semifinals as the Wolverines battled UAB at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
But this isn’t something she does just for the big games. I’ve enjoyed seeing her consistent presence for years on the sidelines of UVU athletic events.
Why does she place such emphasis on supporting these teams when she has so many demands on her time?
“I see this program as part of a larger picture and that larger picture is a university that really believes in human potential in a very real way, a very unpretentious way, a very real way,” Tuminez told me from her front-row seat. “I’ve had fun watching this team. You have to believe it’s happening, that they really are building this for themselves individually, for the team, for us as a university and even for the state of Utah.”
She has seen an explosion of attention to the institution, thanks to the success of the team on the basketball court.
“This has been covered everywhere,” Tuminez said. “People ask me about this everywhere from around the world where I’ve lived. They’ve created the splash, not just for themselves individually but for the entire community.”
UVU radio color commentator Josh Kallunki talked about walking through a casino in Las Vegas on Tuesday and got to talking to a security guard.
When he told the guard that he was in town to do the broadcast for the Wolverines, the guard said, “Oh, yeah, Utah Valley! I love that Trey Woodbury!”
Kallunki said it was the first time he has had ever had that happen — but I hope it isn’t the last.
While seeing the 2022-23 squad set a school record in wins and make a deep postseason run has certainly been rewarding, Tuminez said it takes on even more meaning when she thinks about the efforts that have laid the foundation for this year’s excitement.
“It’s very meaningful for UVU because this is something we’ve been building for a long time,” Tuminez said. “These things don’t happen overnight. UVU joined Division I not too long ago and I think every coach has kind of incrementally built this program.”
She loves seeing a squad that believes in itself and is ready to take on all challenges.
“I think confidence is growing at UVU,” Tuminez said. “It’s a lot of hard work that goes on. There’s a lot of Wolverine pride that’s grown. This is a mix of pride, hard work, skills and believe that we can play, that we can win.”
She wants to see it continue in the future, wants to see the success of this season be a building block both athletically and for the development of the university as a whole.
“I think this will help us recruit not only student-athletes but better students, better professors, donors, people who will listen, who will want to listen to our story and support us,” Tuminez said. “So this is really big for us. At the beginning, people didn’t believe that UVU could be here but here we are as one of the last eight universities playing. We’re all building a story and this is just a gigantic part of the story. When you achieve something at the national level at this scale, all sorts of doors open for you.”
She said she had a message for the Wolverines before they left to play in the tournament. While it was directed at the basketball team, I think it’s something she feels strongly applies to every athlete, every coach, every student and everyone involved with UVU.
“I quoted wild animal biologists who said if Wolverines in the wild have a strategy, it is to go fast and high and steep and never back down. I feel that that kind of captures the ethos of this team. They’ve been resilient. They’ve gotten up. They’ve learned a lot.”
Do I think UVU has reached all of its goals as an athletic program since the basketball team made this run? No.
But are we seeing what these Wolverines can become? Absolutely.
Every big win, every exciting moment, every time UVU succeeds, it builds for the future.
The season will end this week for the Wolverines and players I’ve enjoyed watching for years like Woodbury, Tim Fuller, Blaze Nield and Le’Tre Darthard will probably move on.
Rumors are swirling that UVU head coach Mark Madsen might also be taking a new job, which means other players and coaches might be leaving as well.
But I certainly hope the legacy they leave will be something that pays big dividends in years to come for the Wolverines — especially in terms of respect.
Jared Lloyd, Daily Herald