Utah men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak said he had doubts that he’d live to see the lid blown off the seedy side of recruiting, but he was hopeful.
This week, an FBI criminal investigation revealed a scandal that shook college basketball and included bribes to steer top-flight recruits to certain schools, agents and financial advisers.
Rick Pitino, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the winner of two collegiate national championships as a coach, has been put on administrative leave along with his athletic director. Four assistant coaches, including one each from Pac-12 Conference schools Arizona and USC, were among the 10 arrested on federal corruption charges. In a news release, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the allegations “strike at the heart of the integrity of our programs, and of the game that so many people love and play the right way.”
As the Utes began their first day of preseason practices, Krystkowiak spoke frankly about the ongoing problem of coaches and programs breaking NCAA rules to recruit the top talent, as well as a conversation that helped him handle his own frustrations with the current recruiting landscape.
“I was told this summer by a coach that if you’re not cheating, you’re cheating yourself,” Krystkowiak said. “To me, certain conferences, I think, are notorious for doing that. If you’re trying to compete in those conferences and you don’t do it, you’re going to be sub-par.
“It’s a big egg on a lot of our faces. It kind of speaks for the entire entity, and we’re a part of it. It’s not going to tarnish what we’re doing here. We’re going to stay real upbeat and focus on what it is that we can control.”
Krystkowiak, now entering his seventh season as the Utes coach and coming off his fourth consecutive 20-win season, appeared calm and composed as he spoke standing just off the sideline of the practice court in the Jon M. and Karen Hunstman Basketball Facility as his players began warming up.
However, he admittedly hasn’t always found it easy to accept the underhanded tactics some coaches will go to in order to sign players.
Krystkowiak laughed at the initial comment made by one of his coaching counterparts that if you’re not cheating, you’re cheating yourself, initially taking it as a joke. As he walked away, the weight of the comment and the reality of the sentiment sunk in as did the disenchantment.
Recently after the Utes were beaten out for a recruit, Krystkowiak got word that “some improprieties” were involved in the player’s recruitment. In the wake of that, Krystkowiak commented publicly that “at least we’re never going to cheat.”
Shortly after that comment, Krystkowiak had a heart-to-heart with a prominent booster – Krystkowiak declined to identify the person – who warned Krystkowiak that he sounded like a victim. That meeting served as “an eye-opening” encounter for Krystkowiak.
“Each of us have to make a decision how we’re going to live and how we’re going to go about our business,” Krystkowiak said. “Unfortunately, with that sometimes comes second place, but we can always look in the mirror and know that we’re doing things the right way. It’s not to say we’re perfect. We make plenty of mistakes, but when it comes to this particular topic we’re not going to get involved in any of that.”
Krystkowiak said he and his staff have taken solace in the fact that they’re getting recruits and commitments from the “right kind of kids,” and he mused that perhaps the fallout from the scandal may lead to more top players seeking programs that have a reputation of being clean.
Since late August, the Utes have enjoyed one of their best recruiting periods of Krystkowiak’s tenure.
Four-star recruit Devante Doutrive joined the program as a late signing, and the Utes received commitments from a pair of four-star recruits from the incoming class of 2018 in wing Timmy Allen from Arizona and center/forward Riley Battin from California. They join guard Naseem Gaskin, a three-star guard from California, as recent commits in the 2018 class. Olympus point guard Rylan Jones, the son of Utes director of operations Chris Jones and a top-100 ranked player in the 2019 class, also committed in August.