San Francisco • There were those no-look assists from Delon Wright, the old-school punishing post moves from Jakob Poeltl and the baselines drives that so often finished in a thunderous one-handed slam from Kyle Kuzma.
They are part of the recent past, inscribed into the memory of all Utah fans.
The Utah men’s basketball program has gone 3 for 3 in the last three seasons, seeing under-the-radar talents morph into eventual first-round NBA draft picks. Beyond the potential of the Runnin’ Utes churning out a fourth straight — and losing a player who would’ve been considered a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate in Kuzma — looms questions around the team.
Is there a go-to guy on this year’s roster?
And perhaps more importantly, does there need to be to contend?
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak briefly pondered the question before answering at Thursday’s annual Pac-12 men’s basketball media day in downtown San Francisco. He recalled that nobody was talking about Kuzma, the 6-foot-9 dynamic scorer, as a name to circle a year ago. Krystkowiak went further back into the memory bank, remembering discussions with those who asked over and over what the Utes would do after losing Wright and Poeltl to the NBA.
“I think we’ve got a talented roster,” Utah’s coach said. “I don’t know if we’re talking about any NBA guys, but I wasn’t talking about any of them a year ago either.”
The Utes return 10 letter winners from a year ago, headlined by senior forward David Collette, who averaged 13.6 points per game and 5.1. rebounds in 22 starts. After that? A series of players who, Krystkowiak said must — and can — embrace higher-profile roles necessary to compete in the conference.
“It may be more of a collaborated effort, where we’ve got to trust each other and maybe not have the one guy to throw the ball to, but I can think of three, four, five guys right now that I trust with the ball in their hand if we need to get a basket,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s the unique part about our job, is typically, that [previous] cast isn’t going to return, so you’ve got to kind of play the little game and put them together. I don’t feel like it’s a void that we can’t overcome.”
Collette, considered one of the top big men in the Pac-12, agreed. And he added that this year’s Utes will have to lean on players who can prove over time that they can be consistent and carry the load when called upon.
“I think we have a couple of those guys that are capable of doing that,” he said. “For the most part, I think our team, looking at it this year, is just going to be a team effort. Everyone getting their opportunity to step up and play that part.”
Senior transfer point guard Justin Bibbins has been part of a one-man band before.
“I’ve been on a team where it’s only one guy and everyone knows with 5 seconds left,” said the former Long Beach State guard, “it’s going to that guy.”
Does Bibbins, who has yet to play a minute with the Utes and will be asked to be a leader without an established alpha dog, think a go-to player is necessary?
“Yes and no,” he said. “Some teams do have a go-to guy and it’s helpful in late situations, but I think having just a team, when you have multiple guys you can go to is even harder to guard. I can dribble through the lane and just hit two or three guys, who can hit a game-winning shot. We have that.”
Senior guard Gabe Bealer as well as junior guards Parker Van Dyke and Sedrick Barefield return experience in the Utah backcourt. Krystkowiak has said newcomers such as sophomore transfer Kolbe Caldwell and freshman forward Donnie Tillman will have their opportunities. Sophomore 7-footer Jayce Johnson will be able to rotate with Collette in the front court.
Krystkowiak is comfortable with the pieces, he said.
“Maybe it’s a little more collective, and I’m perfectly fine if I have four or five guys in double figures,” he said. “Sometimes that’s not a bad thing either.”
As he noted when plopping down at the podium, it’s his seventh year at Utah and the Utes were picked seventh in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, so he joked that it’s now his lucky number.
“Expect us to go to the Final Four,” he jokingly signed off.
2017-18 PAC-12 MEN’S BASKETBALL PRESEASON MEDIA POLL
Team (first-place votes) • Points
1. Arizona • 273
2. USC (1) • 251
3. UCLA • 223
4. Oregon • 203
5. Stanford • 182
6. Arizona State • 146
7. Utah • 129
8. Oregon State • 125
9. Colorado • 112
10. Washington • 71
11. California • 46
12. Washington State • 33