Gordon Monson: Why are so many players leaving Utah’s men’s basketball program?

Anybody else out there have questions about Larry Krystkowiak and what’s going on with Utah’s basketball program?

You do. I do. Most everybody does. The empty seats at the Huntsman Center want to know.

Players are jumping out of the school’s practice facility as though the place were burning to the ground, as though there were an outbreak of some awful communicable disease, and there’s been no real comprehensive explanation thus far from Krystkowiak for the exodus. I reached out for a response from the coach, but was told he is out of pocket until the middle of August. Hopefully, he can answer some questions upon his return. Understandably, it’s not his favorite subject.

At the end of this past season, he said he hoped not to have to comment on every transfer, as it happens. But maybe he could comment on the totality of them.

Here’s the deal: The Utes this next season will have seven freshmen, three sophomores and one junior on the roster. Most of the veterans are gone now, including guys like Donnie Tillman and Jayce Johnson, players who would have been featured had they stayed the course at Utah. Instead, they redirected their paths to other schools, such as UNLV, in the case of Tillman, and Marquette, in the case of Johnson.

It is said that Tillman wanted to be closer to his ill mother in Las Vegas, but that doesn’t align with Tillman checking out potential landing spots across the country.

Something’s not right here. The Utes have lost six scholarship players since November — including redshirt freshman guard Naseem Gaskin who entered the transfer portal just this week — and at least 16 in the past four years. Transfers in college basketball are not an uncommon thing. They happen, and they are happening more and more. But they are happening at a greater clip at Utah under Krystkowiak’s watch.

The proportion of transfers for men’s D-I basketball in 2018 sat at 29 percent. But that included all transfers, including those from two-year schools to four-year programs, a progression that isn’t notable because it’s expected and encouraged. The transfer rate from a four-year school to a four-year school was 14 percent.

Krystkowiak’s percentage is considerably higher.

I do not know all the reasons. Players tend to go quietly when they transfer, in part because they don’t want to cause ripple effects that somehow could splash back to harm them and their reputations down the road. They do not want to be seen as malcontents. Sometimes they concoct stories to cover for their departures. Sometimes they have solid motivations. Sometimes they are invited to leave. Sometimes they just want to get out of Dodge and rebuild what’s left of their eligibility.

Whatever the reasons for players bailing out of Utah, whether they are selfish or unselfish, or both or neither, it’s not a favorable look for Krystkowiak to lose so many of his flock. Ute sheep are wandering all over the place.

He’s the one who recruits these guys. He’s the one who lures them into his fold. He’s the one who judges players’ abilities and attitudes, measures their individual fits, conjures his sales pitch, delivers it and closes the deal.

If they’re not good enough to play for him, that’s his error. If they won’t willfully follow his lead and his instruction, if they are bums, at least in some cases, he should have seen that coming. If he’s too old school for many of the modern players, too aggressive, too unbending, too harsh, that’s on him, too. He either has to draw in those kinds of athletes or he has to evolve with the times.

That’s the world in which he operates now. It’s not 1980. The ways of Bob Knight and Rick Majerus are done. A majority of players in this day and age have to be approached in a different manner. Call them soft, if you must, call them entitled, but players now can be motivated and developed with the right touch, with the right voice. If a coach is going to churn through the masses, leaving debris along the road, it’s on him.

It’s on Krystkowiak.

That may not seem fair, but it just is.

It’s up to him to recruit the guys with whom he can build a successful program, not rebuild it every year with a new wave of replacements. That should be within Krystkowiak’s reach, given that he’s a smart man and given that he’s one of the highest-paid basketball coaches in the college game, making in excess of $3 million per year.

If the methodology that’s being utilized is ineffective, if it’s a turn-off for the players, then … it has to change. If it can’t change, then Utah basketball is not getting its money’s worth.

Blaming the kids, telling them to get off Utah’s lawn, after they’ve been invited onto it by the one doing the barking, is not the answer. The sheer numbers might not tell the whole story, but, altogether, they tell a portion of it, a big enough portion to fire off a warning signal.

Maybe in Utah’s case, there are extenuating circumstances.

Maybe that’s something Larry Krystkowiak can explain, if he will.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.