Utah basketball: Utes offer plenty of reasons for hope
The transformation has begun in earnest for Jordan Loveridge.
Utah's rising sophomore power forward wore a lime green T-shirt to a recent workout, one that went hard on the eyes. As he answered questions about the Utes' future, Dakarai Tucker and Brandon Taylor walked into view. Jeremy Olsen could be seen lazily shooting baby jumpers on an adjacent basket.
Those are the four freshmen on whom Larry Krystkowiak will rely to take his program to the next level. All of them were thrown into the fire this past season. Two of them became fixtures in the starting lineup, while the others found consistent minutes after Christmas.
"We all kind of found out what it's like to play basketball in the Pac-12," Loveridge said. "How do we get better? We have to work hard this summer. We have to improve our games and kind of go from there."
After a season that ended with four wins in the last five games, plus a Cinderella run to the conference tournament semifinals, Utah's offseason has begun with optimism. That hope and those good feelings have been bolstered by a recruiting class that's long on depth and talent.
Utah signed 6-foot-6 point guard Kenneth Ogbe out of Germany last week, beating out the likes of Georgia Tech and Xavier for his services. Small forward Princeton Onwas comes from Nigeria by way of Houston. Washington native Ahmad Fields, a 6-5 shooting guard, will be on hand. Former Davis High star Conner Van Brocklin comes in from Snow College.
They will join fall period signings Delon Wright, Parker Van Dyke and Marko Kovacevic. Local fans know Van Dyke well, a 6-3 combination guard from East High. He will play his freshman season before embarking on an LDS Church mission.
The feeling is that this recruiting class can provide the depth that was missing this past season. And this recruiting class contains the athleticism that many of its conference opponents enjoyed.
"I will say that each of the guys we're bringing in can defend and they are character guys, and that's important," Krystkowiak said. "There are so many things that can happen between now and next season. You never want to try and project. But we like what we've done, and we're excited for the players we have coming in next year."
There are significant questions that need to be answered. Jason Washburn turned in an all-conference caliber senior season at center. Who replaces him?
Jarred DuBois became a terror for opponents offensively by the end of the year. He could score in transition and the half-court offense. Which current Ute can fill that role?
Even Cedric Martin, for all of his offensive inactivity, was one of the best defenders in the Pac-12. Who will lock down the conference's elite scorers now?
That's where the current freshmen come in. Loveridge, who graduated from West Jordan, was one of the best rookies in the league. The coaching staff hopes he will develop into an all-conference performer. Olsen showed an ability to score in the post this season. If he defends better, he could be a force. Taylor improved at point guard as the year progressed. And Tucker is getting better rapidly and poised to break out as a sophomore.
"We feel like we have the talent to compete with the best teams in the conference next year," Taylor said. "It's a matter of going out and proving it. I like everything that we've done. All of the guys who are coming in can really play. This team likes each other, and that's a big thing as well."
Utah's roster will see transfers for the third straight season. Shooting guard Justin Seymour and point guard Glen Dean both will seek new opportunity, along with Aaron Dotson, who began the season as the starting small forward.
Dotson and Dean both expect to graduate this summer, which drew praise from Krystkowiak. Dean is expected to leave for Idaho, where he would be eligible immediately for one year. Dotson's knees weren't healthy all season. He said he would like to continue his career somewhere if he's healthy. Seymour said his destination next year is unknown.
Next season marks the third for Krystkowiak. The first two showed incremental progress. Utah went from six wins to 15 this time around. On paper, next season clearly will mark Krystkowiak's most talented team. Its most obvious improvement comes on the perimeter, where the Utes will go from having the smallest backcourt to one of the biggest in the Pac-12.
Will more talent translate to more wins? That's the biggest question during Utah's offseason. It's one that won't begin to be answered for another six months.
Twitter: @tjonessltrib Who's back?
Jordan Loveridge, Dakarai Tucker, Brandon Taylor and Jeremy Olsen provided a base for the future this past season. Loveridge and Taylor became starters, while the other two could be starters next season.
Who's not back?
Jason Washburn, Cedric Martin and Jarred DuBois all graduate. Justin Seymour, Glen Dean and Aaron Dotson will all transfer. Big man transfer Harry Whitt who played at Judge Memorial was forced to quit basketball because of lingering knee issues.
Who's coming in?
Delon Wright and Kenneth Ogbe are considered gems in a large recruiting class. Wright is the younger brother of NBA player Dorrell Wright. Ogbe is a 6-6 point guard out of Germany. Parker Van Dyke and Conner Van Brocklin are two local talents. Former Waterford star big man Neal Monson returns off his LDS Church mission and will be in the fold. Players like Ahmad Fields, Princeton Onwas and Marko Kovacevic round out a large class.