The material sounds old to selected members of the audience, but Larry Krystkowiak doesn’t care.
Utah's basketball coach once criticized himself for believing the program's culture automatically would carry over from one season to the next. So as the Utes officially begin practicing Thursday, Krystkowiak has made sure his message is being heard by everyone – including a senior who probably could finish his sentences by now.
“Even if we've got Parker Van Dyke, who's heard it for five years … if it's monotonous to him, so be it,” Krystkowiak said. “We've got a bunch of guys who need to hear it.”
And that's OK with Van Dyke. “It's important to know who we are and how we do things,” he said Wednesday, as the Ute veterans met the media. “And then Coach K's always got new stuff as well. He and the coaching staff are always constantly learning and trying to get better, just like the players. So it's not to the point where it's so redundant that I don't listen.”
Krystkowiak likes to say that every season is different in college basketball, with personnel turnover. That’s true, but this season is an extreme for Utah, after a convergence of recruited players and transfers created a big senior class in 2017-18. The Utes have eight scholarship newcomers: five freshmen, redshirt freshman Vante Hendrix-Rose, junior college transfer Charles Jones Jr. and graduate transfer Novak Topalovic. Van Dyke and Sedrick Barefield are the only returning seniors from a team that finished 23-12 with a loss to Penn State in the NIT championship game. Utah starts the season Nov. 8 vs. Maine.
The tradeoff for experience is a talented recruiting class that the coaching staff targeted long ago, knowing about the roster vacancies. The group got even better with a couple of late additions, Lahat Thioune and Both Gach. The freshmen were highly ranked recruits, with “maybe a few more stars behind [their] name than we've been accustomed to having,” Krystkowiak said. “It's a hell of a lot of fun to coach this team, it really is. We've got some abilities we've never had here.”
Barefield likes the way the new players are adjusting. “Most of those guys are just so talented, so skilled, they're able to pick up on things quickly,” he said.
“It's tough, being as a freshman as a student-athlete,” Van Dyke said. “Most of these guys graduated high school and within a month, they're here. They're in summer workouts and we're doing Navy SEALs [training] and things like that, so it can be a lot. But I think we've got a great group of guys; their hearts are in the right place.”
NCAA rules with four hours of weekly practice at selected times of the offseason have allowed Krystkowiak to work with his new team, rather than starting fresh Thursday. He can picture using his reserves as a specialty group, emphasizing a high-energy, pressure-defense style of play. “It’s a little scary as a coach that you’ve got to have two different identities on one team, but it might fit this team pretty well,” he said. “I do think we can kind of flip a switch in the middle of games and disrupt some things.”