Utah builds on recruiting success, Larry Krystkowiak's toughness
SAN FRANCISCO – The Pac-12 expansion two years ago came as the conference continued its recovery from mass exportation to the NBA. While some teams scrambled to replace their talent base, the new kids on the block donning block Us simply wanted to catch up.
“We have to remember that my opportunity to coach the Runnin' Utes coincided with our entry to the Pac-12,” said head coach Krystkowiak. “Your recruiting needs to catch up to that league. At the end of the day, it comes down to the caliber of player you can bring to your school.”
The Utes won six games and only three within the new-look conference in 2011-12. Last season, they finished 15-18 with an impressive four-game winning streak before falling in their third conference tournament game. Krystkowiak only hopes to build upon the success this season. He wants to run more and, like the Colorado Buffaloes, take advantage of playing at more than 4,000 feet.
“I think if you ask kids on any level, high school to NBA, 'Do you want to run?' " Krystkowiak said, "they're probably going to all dislocate their shoulder putting their arms up. 'Yeah, I want to run.'”
Jordan Loveridge, the sophomore forward who hails from West Jordan, Utah, joined his coach at Pac-12 Men's Basketball Media Day after averaging 12.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. He is an example of the recruiting talent but also of the buy-in. Coming from a local, it's a big deal.
Credit Krystkowiak for recruiting but also for creating a defensive culture that led to wins against ranked Oregon and a very good Colorado team. Utah also took several more-talented teams to the brink in 2012-13. All along, it's been apparent the Utes played like their coach, a former NBA forward who developed a reputation that came up on media day – Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was asked Thursday which Pac-12 coach could win a one-on-one battle, and he joked that Krystkowiak would “foul you every time you had the ball.”
Like their coach, the Utes have been pesky and relentless. The talent is catching up to the rest of the Pac-12. Behind Loveridge, the Utes believe they're ready to rise.
“Year 1 for the University of Utah was a little bit like survival. Year 2 was learning how to compete,” Krystkowiak said of his first two seasons at the helm and the first two as part of the expanded conference.
“I'm certainly pleased," he added. "In year 3, we're looking to win a lot more ball games.”