One year ago today, Larry Krysktowiak was announced as the new head basketball coach at the University of Utah.
The historically proud basketball program had fallen to "middle-of-the-pack" status in the Mountain West Conference. The challenges seemed to compound right away. Seemingly, the entire basketball team decided (or was encouraged) to transfer out of the program within Krystkowiak's first month at the healm.
Utah entered the summer with only 4 returning players, 1 of whom went on to miss the entire season (David Foster-injury), and 1 of whom would miss the second half of the season (Jiggy Watkins-dismissed from team).
Rebuilding was put on hold. The new staff scrambled to put a roster together, despite the fact that most high school players had already either signed or committed to their to-be Universities.
Krysktowiak used the squeaky clean slate as an opportunity to install a set of principles in his team, and his program. With his staff in place, Krystkowiak placed a renewed emphasis on recruiting a brighter future, building a program that could be strong for seasons to come.
To use a cheesy analogy, Krystkowiak was planting (and transplanting) trees. Any spring gardener can vouch that the first-year growth of trees is minimal…at least above the surface. What goes on under the surface is equally important to the future health of a tree. It's in the early years that a tree focuses its' energy toward growing a strong root system.
On the surface, the 2011-12 season was the worst in program history. Utah was the unanimous preseason choice to finish dead last in conference…and it wasn't expected to be close. National analysts mocked the Utes, calling them the worst major conference team in the modern era of NCAA basketball. Many experts believed Utah wouldn't win a single conference game, and should be grateful to grab one or two wins all season.
Utah finished the season 6-25 overall, and 3-15 in the Pac-12. While the conference had a terrible season, Utah finished 11th place out of 12 teams…an amazing accomplishment for all the players and coaches.
More importantly, Utah was making progress below the surface.
Most Utah games featured just one Utah assistant coach on the bench next to Krystkowiak. Utah was out on the road, recruiting for 2012, 2013, 2014 and beyond.
With the 2011-12 season in the rear view mirror, Utah fans should start to see growth out of the program, thanks in large part to last season's emphasis on building a strong root system that can facilitate growth.
Here's an overview of the Utah roster as currently constituted, and where fans should expect to see changes.
- PG, Josh "Jiggy" Watkins – Graduation/dismissed from team: 16 ppg, 6 apg, 3 rpg. Utah's leading scorer was dismissed from the team midway through the season for multiple violations of team rules.
- G, Chris Hines – Transfer: 10 ppg, 3 rpg, 34% 3PT. Hines is a graduating junior, meaning he can transfer and play right away (doesn't have to sit out a year like most transfers).
- PG, Kareem Storey – Transfer: 24 mins/game, 5 ppg, 3 apg, 2 rpg. Utah's replacement starter at PG after Jiggy Watkins left.
- G, Anthony Odunsi – Transfer: 15 mins/game, 3 ppg. A late signee who provided depth in Utah's backcourt.
- PF, Javon Dawson – Transfer: 15 mins/game, 3 ppg, 2 rpg. The bruising PF was Utah's primary big man off the bench for most of the season.
- SF, George Matthews – Transfer: 5 mins/game, 1 ppg, 1 rpg. Joined the Utes as a highly regarded recruit out of Arizona. Struggled with injuries, effort, and consistency throughout the season.
- PF, Blake Wilkinson – LDS Mission: 10 mins/game, 2 ppg, 2 rpg. Joined the Utes as a walk-on and earned a scholarship midway through the season. Will be departing on an LDS mission, is expected to join the Utes upon his return.
- C, Jason Washburn (6'10, 244) – SR: 29 mins/game, 11.4 ppg, 6 rpg, 1.4 blks. Scored in double figures 21 times this season, including a 26 point outburst at Oregon.
- C, David Foster (7'3, 243) – SR: Missed season due to injury. The 7'3 defensive specialist is arguably the nation's top shot blocker. Will seek a medical redshirt if he's able to fully recover from foot surgery.
- F, Dijon Farr (6'6, 219) – SR: 26 mins/game, 7 ppg, 5 rpg. Led team in steals and 3PT% (37.5%). An athletic utility forward who can play multiple positions.
- Wing, Cedric Martin (6'4, 200)- SR: 31 mins/game, 7.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2 apg, 37% 3PT. Athletic wing struggled with consistency, but showed good range on his jump shot, and strong defensive ability.
- PG, Glen Dean (5'10, 170) – JR – Transfer: Sat out last season after transferring from Eastern Washington. Former Big Sky Freshman of the Year was a dynamic scorer for Eagles. Underwent brain surgery during this season, is expected to make a full recovery. Will likely be Utah's starting PG next season, and one of Utah's best offensive weapons (averaged 42% from 3PT during his career at Eastern Washington).
- Wing, Aaron Dotson (6'4, 204) – JR – Transfer: Sat out last season after transferring from LSU. Was an elite wing recruit out of Seattle. Started some games at LSU as a true freshman, and played a consistent role through both of his seasons in Baton Rouge. Led the Tigers in 3PT%, connecting on 38% of his attempts from long range. An athletic perimeter player who should see major minutes next season.
- C, Dallin Bachinsky (7'0, 230) – SO – Transfer: Played his freshman season at Southern Utah University. Recently returned from an LDS mission. Older brother Jordan plays for Arizona State where he was a key player down the stretch. Dallin is a skilled big man who can play inside or outside.
- F/C, Jeremy Olsen (6'10, 235) – FR – Returning from Mission: Redshirted at Utah before serving an LDS mission. Holds many high school records in the state of Georgia. Was very highly regarded by Utah before departing for an LDS mission.
- SF, Jordan Loveridge (6'7, 220) – FR – Signed Last Fall: The jewel of Larry Krystkowiak's first full recruiting class. Loveridge is a highly regarded 3-star recruit who drew praise last summer on the AAU circuit while playing against top competition. Utah's Mr. Basketball is a physical player who can score the basketball and rebound at a high level. Will join the team this summer.
- G, Justin Seymour (6'3, 196) – FR – Signed Last Fall: A 3-star guard joining the Utes from Georgia. Played AAU basketball for the Georgia Stars (one of the top programs in the nation) along with 5-star recruits Tony Parker (unsigned) and Alex Poythress (Kentucky-bound). Seymour is a combo guard that can score or distribute.
- Wing, Josh Hearlihy (6'7, 200) – FR – Signed Last Fall: a 3-star wing prospect out of California who can do a little bit of everything. An improving shorter with a great motor and good athleticism. Comes from a basketball family, and brings a high basketball IQ to the Utes.
- PG, Brandon Taylor (5'10, 160) – FR – Committed: A lightning quick point guard who can score or distribute. A truly gifted passer who will draw "oo's" and "ah's" with his passes. Can get in the paint at will, and also shoot the ball well from beyond the 3 point line. Though physically small in stature, will compete for minutes immediately at PG next season.
Utah currently has 1 current scholarship available right now, though it seems likely that additional players may leave the program before the start of next season. Expect to see a combination of players added from the high school, junior college, and division 1 levels.
High School Prospects: Brandon Taylor, Eddie Alcantara, Khalil Johnson, Mislav Brzoja and Max Guercy.
Junior College Prospects: Renan Lenz, Givon Crump, Fabyon Harris, Gerson Santo, Andrew Young.
Division 1: While Utah hasn't been linked to any names yet, expect the Utes to be active players in this market over the coming months. Last season, Utah landed two very good players in Dean & Dotson via transfer. Until Utah gets back to a competitive level, D1 transfers may be Utah's most successful avenue for adding high-level recruits.
There are a lot of directions Utah could go at this point. Utah needs help at virtually every position, meaning fans should be prepared for additional changes. With that in mind, here's a look at each position group.
- PG: With the departure of Watkins, Hines and Storey, the Utes are now thin at PG for 2012-13. Help arrives in 2013 in the form of high school commit Julian Jacobs (Las Vegas, NV). For the upcoming season, look for the Utes to bolster this very thin group. Many have linked the Utes to Southern Idaho (Juco) PG Fabyon Harris, though that seems unlikely at this point. Harris is a scoring guard that's starting to garner national attention from college coaches, and with Taylor now on board, Utah seems to have backed off a bit. While incoming recruit Justin Seymour can slide down and play some point, look for the Utes to be active in the transfer market. Looking into a glass ball, Utah is in a good spot with both Brandon Miller and Parker Van Dyke (class of '13), though with missions factored in, both are many years away from playing at Utah.
- SG: With Cedric Martin entering his senior season, and Dotson being versatile enough to play multiple positions, Utah may look to add another SG to the roster. Amedeo Della Valle was a target for many months, but has since trimmed the Utes from his list. While the position is thin moving forward, Utah can be patient with this position and address this spot next year if the market dries up. Incoming freshman Justin Seymour helps.
- SF: With Dijon Farr sliding down to play a lot of PF last season, Utah spent much of the year without a true SF being available. Martin and Dotson could slide down in a bind, but Utah coaches have made this position a point of emphasis. Local recruit Jordan Loveridge gives the Utes a great option immediately, while Josh Hearlihy may take some time to be physically ready to play. Expect Farr to play both SF & PF this season, meaning the Utes still need to add a player at SF. Juco prospect Givon Crump (Pasadena CC) has an offer in hand, and has high interest in the Utes. Crump is an elite 3 point shooter who can really score the basketball. Crump played his freshman season at Baylor before transferring to Pasadena CC (with a brief layover at Fresno State). Crump visited Utah in March, and should make his decision soon. If he chooses Utah as many expect, Crump will could step in to the starting lineup next to Dean and Dotson and become one of the team's best scorers. If Crump passes on Utah, things may open up again for the Utes. Eddie Alcantara (a 3-star high school recruit from Chicago) visited Utah in March, though doesn't have an offer at this point. Utah may also look to D1 transfers, or future recruiting classes for help at this position. Calvin Hermanson (freakishly athletic) is an underclassman with a Utah offer.
- PF: Utah's biggest need next season is at PF. Expect Utah to add another player at this position. Dijon Farr can fill in at times, though he is undersized and not a natural PF. Returned Missionary Jeremy Olsen has an opportunity in front of him to grab playing time if he lives up to the hype he received from Jim Boylen's staff at Utah (before his mission). Utah is also considered a finalist for Renan Lenz, a Juco PF from Western Arizona. Lenz (a native of Brazil, had never been on a college campus until a recent trip to VaTech. Lenz has become a very highly regarded PF recruit, having received offers from Hawaii, Kent State, Texas Tech, Wichita State as well as finalists Virginia Tech, USC, Utah and Auburn. Lenz is a very good player who would likely start right away at Utah. He's in the process of taking visits to his finalists, and will be in Utah on April 20th. Lenz is planning to make a decision following his Utah visit.
- C: If David Foster is healthy (and that's a massive 7'3 "if"), he will be the anchor of this team on the defensive end of the floor. Foster may never be an offensive juggernaut, but he's the equivalent of a 20 ppg scorer on the defensive end of the floor with how many shots he blocks and alters. Washburn played this season as a starter and produced on the offensive end of the floor. Together, the duo would be very formidable. Bachinsky is probably a year or two away from being ready to play, and would benefit from a redshirt season. While the position appears to be one of strength for this season, looking ahead, the Utes are desperately thin at this spot. Both 2012 and 2013 appear thin at the big man position, so Utah may have to get creative in how they address this position moving forward.
With so many options available to Utah, it will be interesting to see how they round out their roster this season.
With the current roster, Utah will have 4 seniors graduate after this season. In other words, Utah will have at least 4 more scholarships to use in 2013 to acquire more talent.
While the job looks very different today, Larry Krystkowiak should feel very good about the his first year at the healm of Utah basketball.
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