Utah senior forward David Collette feels a difference in the dynamic among the men’s basketball team going into this season. It’s hard to quantify or describe other than the way the group has “jelled” early.
“It seems like it goes smoother,” Collette said. “Practice is better. I don’t know. I just feel like everything is going right this year.”
The Utes tip-off the 2017-18 season, the seventh under the direction of coach Larry Krystkowiak, at 8 p.m. Friday against Prairie View A&M in the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The Utes will play three homes game in the first seven days of the season.
“We had a number of new guys last year, and we had a some issues, internally,” Krystkowiak said. “We got a bunch of good guys [this season]. It’s really a joy to come and coach them. There’s no energy vampires that are going to suck life out of people. We’ve got a lot of energy givers. ... We’re kind of getting back to when we started this program, that was real important to us.”
Prairie View A&M at Utah
When • Friday, 8 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
The Utes won 20 games last season (20-12, 11-7) and finished the regular season sitting fourth in the Pac-12 Conference standings. The Utes bowed out of the conference tournament with an opening-round loss to California and then lost to Boise State in the first round of the NIT.
Four of last season’s top six scorers are gone, including leading scorer (16.4 points per game) and rebounder (9.3 rebounds per game) Kyle Kuzma, who left as an early entry into the NBA Draft. Lorenzo Bonam (12.5 ppg, 3.1 assists per game) graduated, while Devon Daniels (9.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg) transferred to North Carolina State and JoJo Zamora (6.9 ppg) transferred to New Mexico State. Daniels sat out three games late last season due to a team suspension.
The Utes, having lost four starters, were picked seventh in the conference’s preseason media poll.
Ten players return to the program from last season. The group benefited from extra time together during a foreign tour this summer which included exhibition games in France and Spain.
Junior guard Sedrick Barefield, who averaged 9.0 points per game and shot 39 percent from behind the 3-point line, appears poised to take on a bigger role along with Collette (13.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg last season).
Senior Tyler Rawson, a 6-foot-10 forward and graduate of American Fork High School, senior wing Gabe Bealer, junior guard and former Utah high school star Parker Van Dyke and 7-foot sophomore center Jayce Johnson, each started at times last season and played 12 minutes per game or more.
Graduate transfer Justin Bibbins, a fiercely-competitive 5-8 guard, joined the program this summer after three seasons at Long Beach State where he’d been a starter and primary ball handler.
“Everyone’s just embraced each other,” Barefield said. “We play well together. We play unselfishly, so it’s made everyone comfortable.”
Utah men's basketball overview
Key returnees • F David Collette (Sr. 6-10), G Sedrick Barefield (Jr., 6-2), G Gabe Bealer (Sr. 6-6)
Key additions • G Justin Bibbins (5-8, 150), G Kobe Caldwell (6-5, 205),F Donnie Tillman (6-7, 225), G Christian Popoola (6-4, 190)
Key losses • Kyle Kuzma (16.4 ppg), Lorenzo Bonam (12.5 ppg), Devon Daniels (9.9 ppg), JoJo Zamora (6.9 ppg)
Bottom line • Barefield and Collette will have a full season after both sat the first semester last year due to NCAA transfer rules. They’ll likely be leaned on greatly along with Bibbins. While a core of seniors figure to garner plenty of minutes, most of them will be asked to play larger roles than they’ve played before. How the upperclassmen grow into those roles and which newcomers emerge as rotation players will all be big questions to be answered during nonconference play.