Pleasant Grove’s 7-4 Matt Van Komen should give the Utes a defensive presence they lack

‘We need a rim protector right now,’ Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak says.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Matt Van Komen, Pleasant Grove's 7-foot-4 center, pressures Weber during their 6A state basketball tournament game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

Ogden • The longest shot Pleasant Grove’s Matt Van Komen made Monday, while he scored 16 points in 16 minutes of a Class 6A state tournament game, came from within a foot of the basket against an opponent nearly a foot shorter.

His display of range came at the other end of the court. Van Komen contested a 3-point shot, then turned and hustled down the lane to rebound the ball.

The defensive presence that enabled him to block three shots and affect a bunch of others in the Vikings’ 80-57 rout of Weber makes Van Komen valuable to Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak’s program after he signed in November. Listed by the Utes at 7-foot-4, he’ll become the tallest player in school history when he arrives on campus this summer, joining a program that needs defensive help.

Utah is in fourth place in the Pac-12, but ranks No. 277 nationally in defensive field-goal percentage (.454) and tied for No. 272 in blocked shots per game (2.5). “We need a rim protector right now,” Krystkowiak said, “and he’s got the ability to block some shots.”

The question is when that blocking would begin. The 220-pound Van Komen needs more strength and weight to thrive in college basketball, so redshirting him in 2019-20 is logical. It would be tempting for Krystkowiak’s staff to play him right away in brief stretches, although current redshirt Lahat Thioune will be available as center Jayce Johnson’s backup next season.

Van Komen says he’ll take whatever path the Ute staff decides for him. Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister said, “Skill-wise, I think he has it. Can he handle the pounding? I don’t know. He really needs to get stronger and put on a little weight, and I know exactly what [Utah’s] plan is.”

Having lost in the state championship game last season at the Huntsman Center, Van Komen is eager to finish his prep career with a title this week. The Vikings (22-2) have lost only to out-of-state teams in a tournament in Hawaii, where Van Komen injured his ankle. In November, PG edged 5A defending champion Olympus, with future Ute guard Rylan Jones, via a buzzer-beating shot.


Wednesday’s schedule

At the Dee Events Center, Ogden

Copper Hills vs. American Fork, 2:30 p.m.

Davis vs. Kearns, 4:10 p.m. 

Fremont vs. Riverton, 5:50 p.m. 

Pleasant Grove vs. Herriman, 7:30 p.m. 

Pleasant Grove plays Herriman in Wednesday’s quarterfinals at the Dee Events Center, where Van Komen will oppose 6-9, 255-pound Blake Freeland, a BYU football signee as a projected offensive lineman. The scouting report of the matchup: “I look at him as super slow and he can’t shoot,” Van Komen said, “so I think I’m fine with it.”

Whenever he plays in college, Van Komen’s development will be intriguing. The odds of any 7-foot person living in America eventually playing in the NBA are 1 in 6, according to the book “The Sports Gene.” Yet of the 10 7-footers in Ute history (counting Johnson and senior Novak Topalovic), only Andrew Bogut and Jakob Poeltl have played in the NBA.

David Foster (7-3), who blocked 99 shots for Utah in the 2010-11 season, may provide the baseline comparison to Van Komen's potential.

Van Komen, who's averaging 13.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.8 blocks, runs well and has good hands. He throws sharp passes and has excellent timing for blocking shots and turning rebounds into dunks, in one motion.

“When he's healthy and he's playing every day, his development goes straight up,” McAllister said.

McAllister plays him in four-minute stretches, resembling the college game's flow with media timeouts.

Anchoring the Vikings’ defense, “He creates a problem,” Weber coach Ryan Jones said, “because they’re able to guard you real heavy on the perimeter and get out on your shooters — knowing that he can protect the paint.”

That area of the Huntsman Center court needs Van Komen’s presence, whenever gets there.