2023-24 Boys Basketball

Rincon/University legend Rich Utter earns 500th career victory with win over Sunnyside

Rich Utter is now 500-411 in his 36th year as a head coach, the last 35 of them at Rincon/University (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

No public-address announcement was made nor did confetti fill the air when Rincon/University’s 35-year coach Rich Utter achieved career win No. 500 on Tuesday night at Sunnyside’s old gym.

Nobody held posters signifying the achievement in the stands.

Someone gave Utter an 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper that was handwritten signifying the coach’s 500th win.

Sunnyside coach Joel Palomarez stood alone with Utter near midcourt after Rincon’s 56-46 win and handed the legendary coach the game ball.

Nobody noticed and acknowledged the classy move with an ovation.

Utter would not have it any other way on his historic night.

He’s not one who chased headlines by trying to coach at a basketball factory or moving from program to program in search of a hotbed of hoops talent.

Instead, he made his coaching home at inner-city neighborhood school Rincon/University, which is known most for its marching band when it comes to athletics.

“You realize you’re not always going to have great teams, as far as wins and losses, but you can still have great teams of kids,” Utter said of his experience at Rincon/University.

Utter, now 500-411, is only the second boys basketball coach from Southern Arizona to reach 500 wins.

The late Dick McConnell finished with a career record of 774-323 in more than 40 years of coaching at Tombstone and Sahuaro.

Utter is 66. His youthful look makes it seem he can coach for another 10 years, if he desired.

He may not reach 700 career wins but 600 is not impossible, especially if he can experience seasons like he had last year when the Rangers finished 20-9. Rincon is 7-13 after Tuesday’s 6A South opener against Sunnyside (10-12).

“Probably the tough part, if you will, is that we’ve been 6A now for quite awhile because the enrollment increased,” Utter said of Arizona’s highest classification. “That just makes the competition very, very tough. We just have to accept that. Couldn’t change that so we’ve just had to do the best we could with what we have.”

Utter coached one year at Valley Union in 1980-81 before serving as an assistant under Roland LaVetter for eight seasons. He became the Rangers’ head coach in 1989-90 when LaVetter became the school’s athletic director.

Utter knows he is reaching the twilight of his career but he is not ready to retire.

“Being with the kids keeps you younger,” he said with a smile. “I really believe that. We’ll see. I don’t know how much we have left.

“I know I’m closer to the end than the beginning. I jokingly tell people I may wake up tomorrow and decide I’m done, but right now, I love working with the kids. I love being in the gym, so there’s no reason to quit.”

Utter is 48 years older than his senior standout Zaire Hays.

The age gap does not mean a thing.

Hays trains with his uncle Kelvin Eafon, a former Arizona basketball and football player who is a radio personality at 1290-AM, and also ex-Wildcat guard Michael Dickerson during summer workouts.

He is exposed to club ball playing for Eafon’s Desert Storm, but he never frowned upon playing at Rincon/University.

Developing his skills under Utter for the last three years at the varsity level was more important than transferring to a powerhouse.

“Coach is so positive,” Hays said. “Even though bad things happen, he just keeps on going. Every day he’s in the gym. Every day, whoever wants to work in the gym, he’s right there with us.

“He’s done nothing but great things for me. He’s a great spirit.”

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