Football coaches around the country stood hypnotized by the hum of fax machines as they awaited the arrival of Letters of Intent, in which players would commit themselves to a certain school for the next five years. Wednesday was an important day, a football day.
On arguably the most publicized football day of the year, University of Utah’s head basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak, was quietly going about his business when his phone rang. Little did he know that this phone call would interrupt the circus which is National Signing Day, bringing with it great news of an important commitment to his basketball program.
“Just to let you know you are the first call, and you are the final call,” said the voice from the other side of the line which belonged to 6-foot-7, 215 pound power forward Donnie Tillman. Tillman - who had his mom by his side - continued, “I love the program, I love what you’re saying, I love the guys that are already there. I can see myself in a Utah Utes jersey.”
Once the news registered to Krystkowiak the excitement kicked in. “When I told Coach K I committed, he was like, ‘Oh snap. I’ve seen a lot of football players commit today,” related Tillman. “He probably screamed ‘YES’ through his phone like a bunch of times. He was really excited. He was elated.”
Before committing to Utah, the Findlay Prep standout began to narrow his school choices throughout his senior season. Tillman had taken official visits to both Utah and TCU. He had planned a trip to Cal last weekend, but cancelled the trip as he knew his decision was almost made. “I thought about it a lot, especially after my official visit to Utah. That visit couldn’t have gone any better,” he explained.
By Tuesday morning he was certain of his decision, “110% that I will be a Utah Ute.”
The main reason Tillman is so set on Utah is because of the coaches. “I love the coaching staff. They all made it feel like home,” he said. “I love Coach K and how much he wanted me and how he wants to use me early on, how he can change everything, (Larry) says, ‘We can build things around you.’”
In describing his style of play, Tillman said, “I’m a real versatile wing. I play in and out. I can do it all. Bring energy. Bring toughness. Every play you will see me hustling, it’s my forte. I bring it on both sides of the floor every game.”
The coaches love what he brings and expect a lot from him right from the get go. “I’m an instant impact guy on the wings," he said. "They can post me up if I have a smaller guard on me. Basically in a lot of iso-offensive things, I’d be great. Basically a lot like how they used Loveridge when he was there.”
Just like with former Ute Jordan Loveridge, Tillman brings the ability to stretch the court. “I’ve really upped my shooting percentage now. I think I’m one of the better shooters now, I’m shooting about 50% from three for the year,” he said. “I think I can keep working on it and become a great shooter by the time I’m in college. I can be hitting 4-5 threes a game, that’s what within my range.”
The coaching staff also envisions having an even more uptempo offense with Tillman on the roster. “I think we’ll try to get on the run more. I’m gonna come in and we’ll utilize that more, get out in transition and run,” said Tillman. “We’ve got some crazy athletes, Devon Daniels, Kyle can get you going, David actually, isn't the most explosive, but he can run the floor really well. We can push it, especially when we’ve got Sedrick and Jojo. They’ve done a better job with that the last couple of games.”
The future is exciting for the Utah basketball team, and Tillman is ready to turn the table and be the one who is out actively recruiting other players to join him at Utah. “Of course. I’m gonna be like, ‘Hey dude, I know you’re being recruited by Utah, so you might as well come on’…Utah this and Utah that… That’s what other dudes were doing to me. I’ll do the same thing,” he pledged.
One person that he would love to see join him on the team in the future is 2018 target, Emmanuel Akot. Tillman and Akot have crossed paths multiple times over the years and have developed a friendship. “Me and him have been talking a lot this past year,. We are really cool. I’ll hit him up about coming to Utah,” he said.
For now, Tillman will keep working on fine tuning his game in preparation to become a Ute. “I can’t wait to get on campus, can’t wait to have my first game, first practice and finally get that jersey on,” he said.