|Coach Larry Krystkowiak and Utah started a rebuilding season with a 2-2 trip to Brazil. (Utah Athletics)|
When Larry Krystkowiak took over the Utah program last spring, he was forced to take on several late signings and junior college transfers after multiple players left the program.
It was more of the same this spring, as Javon Dawson, Dijon Farr, Chris Hines, George Matthews, Anthony Odunsi, Kareem Story all transferred from the Utes. Leading scorer Josh Watkins was also dismissed from the team midway through the season.
“It wasn't a surprise for us,” Krystkowiak said. “A lot of the guys we brought in, we didn't tell them it was a multi-year scholarship or guarantee them anything. When the end of the year came, we had a number of guys that raise their hands and said, ‘I'd like to transfer.'”
Krystkowiak doesn't sound too disappointed with the amount of turnover in the program, despite coming off a 6-25 campaign. He also saw flashes of potential during the team's preseason trip to Brazil earlier this month.
With only two rotation players returning – and 11 scholarship players who didn't play a minute for Utah last year – the Utes are heading into a completely new-look season with some optimism.
“We've got our guys,” Krystkowiak said. “It almost feels like year one.”
What Krystkowiak learned: “Teams like to beat American teams. The Georgetown – China fight, you can see where that happens. A couple games we had were way out of control. But that was something we can reach back on in league play, when we're facing adverse conditions on the road. It will be nothing compared to what we faced in Brazil. We didn't win a game on the road last year, so we have to get a lot tougher. We have a couple guys that kind of buried their head in the sand and ran away from it. But we also had four or five guys that thrived. It gives you a little bit idea of who the fighters are. Got to see how everyone responded in an alley fight.”
Who stood out: “The thing I like most about us is our depth. We have two guys battling at every position. It's a really good motivator. Knowing that if you're not carrying your weight, someone else is there to take your position. I kind of flash back to Colorado, with them winning our league and doing a nice job in the NCAA tournament. When you play Colorado, you never really could put a finger on which guy or guys to stop.”
Biggest concern: “The league is going to be a heck of a lot better. Personally, I know our team is going to be a lot better. The price of poker in the league has gone up. Beyond that, it's just your typical challenges that you always have.”
- 7-foot-3 David Foster will be back from a foot injury that forced him to miss the entire season. Foster, who played in two of the four games in Brazil, is one of the best shot-blockers in the league, if not the country. “We were pretty conservative with him,” Krystkowiak said. “Conditoniong is the biggest thing. He wants to have a great run in his senior year. He's showing some leadership. He's an easy guy to cheer for. I think he can lead the league in blocked shots.”
- Eastern Washington transfer Glen Dean underwent brain surgery in December after a series of medical tests showed a ruptured blood vessel. Dean is ready to start this season, though. “He's doing great,” Krystkowiak said. “Doesn't appear to be any effects from that. He was one of the bright spots in terms of leadership and toughness. He's playing point for us. Guys want to be around him, gravitate toward him.”
- Along with Dean, expect transfers Jarred DuBois (Loyola Marymount) and Aaron Dotson (LSU) to also start on the perimeter. “DuBois led us in assists; he's really a heady player,” Krystkowiak said. “Dotson is back at full speed.”
- Highly-touted recruit Jordan Loveridge was stood out among the freshmen. He led the Utes in scoring and rebounding, averaging 13 points and eight boards on the trip. “It was impressive that Jordan was able to come up with those kinds of numbers in not an extraordinary number of minutes,” Krystkowiak said.
- Five guys averaged double-figures in points on the trip, but Krystkowiak is hoping for more consistency.
- A highlight of the trip: junior power forward Renan Lenz is a native of Brazil, and his family got to see the team play.
- Krystkowiak gave his team an assignment when they returned to Salt Lake City: write a three-page paper on the trip to Brazil. They will then put everyone's paper together in a scrap book, to keep as a memento from the trip.
- Fun note: in order to promote team-building and unity, Krystkowiak made the players change roommates in each of the three places they stayed.