With a 1-8 start to their season and new records for futility being set weekly, the Utes have become a national punching bag. But losing Dean, considered within the program as its point guard of the future, was the biggest blow.
"We miss having him out there," junior center Jason Washburn said. "We can't wait to get him back. A lot of guys have been going up and seeing him all week. As far as I know, he's doing real well."
The Utes host Idaho State on Friday, maybe their best remaining chance this season for a win, but their minds have been in a hospital room higher on the hill.
Aaron Dotson is Dean's closest ally on the team. Both are from Seattle, both transferred in this year (Dean from Eastern Washington, Dotson from Louisiana State) and both are sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer regulations. They grew up playing against each other in AAU tournaments, and squared off as high school rivals at Garfield and Roosevelt high schools.
It was while Dotson and Dean were lifting weights together Dec. 8 that Dean first began to complain. His vision was fuzzy. He had a headache.
"We'd be walking around," Dotson said, "and he'd be like, 'I can't see.' And I'd have to guide him around."
Then on Saturday at halftime of the Utes' 61-42 loss to Brigham Young, he could no longer stand the lights and activity and was taken to University Hospital.
He's been there since.
Dean's mother, Judy Sinclair, flew in for the procedure. Dotson spent Wednesday night with them at the hospital. They watched TV.
"He's always worried about the team," said Dotson. "The first thing he asked me was, 'How was practice today?' I was like, 'You just got out of surgery, talk about something else.' "
No timeline was given for Dean's return to the program. He has impressed coaches in practices early this season with his grit and quick mastery of coach Larry Krystkowiak's offense.
Dean was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year in 2010 at Eastern Washington, and last year as a sophomore led the Eagles with averages of 13.3 points and 4.2 assists per game.
Utah vs. Idaho State
P At Huntsman Center
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 1-8, ISU 2-7
Series record • Utah 22-4
Last meeting • Utah 68-56 (Dec. 5, 2009)
About the Utes • The Utes have not played since losing 61-42 to rival BYU on Dec. 10. … Starting guard Chris Hines is unlikely to play after suffering a broken thumb against the Cougars. Hines is the Utes' third leading scorer at 8.8 points per game. … Utah has never lost at home to Idaho State.
About the Bengals • Melvin Morgan leads Idaho State with 12.8 points per game. … The Bengals' only wins came against Colorado Christian and North Dakota. … Idaho State was picked to finish last in the nine-team Big Sky Conference by both the coaches and media in the preseason.