Not everyone knows how to recruit a basketball team, but picture a puzzle.
You start by knowing what you want, then look for the edge pieces that frame the rest of the picture. And once you have that foundation in place, it’s a lot easier to start filling the rest in.
Utah men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak likens his first year to starting from scratch with just a vision in mind, looking for any and all pieces he could bring in to make the program he wanted. Now, the dog days of the summer recruiting period are a little easier to get through with a framework his staff can build upon.
"We’ve got less scholarships available on an annual basis, and we feel good with the returners we have back," he said. "We’re looking for just pieces of the puzzle now. Recruiting is tough, but it’s not nearly the load it was. When you get your program established, some of the things handle themselves."
The Utes are preparing to enter the second weekend of the summer evaluation period, when NCAA rules free up coaches to talk to and watch recruits. It’s the season of summer tournaments, when AAU squads are out across the country playing game after game after game to show who will cut it at the next level.
There’s no doubt it’s a busy time for Krystkowiak and his coaching staff. The Utes head coach himself was in Las Vegas, Seattle and Long Beach recruiting just over the first five days, and he’s been on the phone nearly non-stop. Tommy Connor, Andy Hill and DeMarlo Slocum are also out and about, hitting the bricks to pull in the next big recruiting class.
But there’s definitely a little less urgency than there was in Krystkowiak’s first two years, when he was essentially trying to recruit a whole team. Every position, every role needed filling. Now, the Utes can go into July with a more selective eye.
"We’re always looking for well-rounded basketball players, and that hasn’t changed," Krystkowiak said. "What has changed is now we can say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a point guard,’ or ‘We’re looking for a three man who can defend.’ It’s a more efficient process."
The Utes’ most recent signing class, which included forwards Brekkott Chapman, Kyle Kuzma, Chris Reyes, Jakob Poeltl and guard Isaiah Wright, was rated the 37th best in the country by 247Sports (a digital media company) this spring, and brought in the size and depth the team feels it needs to compete in the Pac-12.
One thing Krystkowiak liked about the class — and looks for in every recruiting class — is the versatility of each player, whether he can work in two or more positions. It’s a skill that Noah Togiai, a Hunter guard committed to the U. in the 2015 class, possesses.
Utah has three seniors in the program this fall, including first-team all-Pac-12 guard Delon Wright and center Dallin Bachynski. Although it seems apparent that both those positions will be recruiting needs in the next class, Krystkowiak said he likes to keep an open mind in case a top-flight talent becomes available.
"It’s kind of how you’d approach a draft: A lot of times, you want the best player available," he said. "More than position, it’s about finding some winners. We want to see the guys who are taking care of business as July gets on and everyone else is dragging. That’s always going to be a staple of what we’re looking for."
But unlike previous summers, this year Krystkowiak can take a little comfort in the team he brings back. He said he may not be on the road for all of the 15-day recruiting period, instead perhaps opting to take a day or two to spend with his current players.
After all, that’s the foundation he’s trying to build around.
"It’s important that our players know that we’ve got to recruit, but we care about them, too," he said. "We might have a team BBQ. We’re not trying to find guys to replace the existing guys; we’re trying to add to the mix. And those guys have a heck of a lot to do with our success."
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