Larry Krystkowiak labels his ultra-young Ute basketball team ‘refreshing’

Utah’s offseason produced five inches of water flooding the practice court, four departing transfers, two years of NCAA probation and one rejuvenated coach.

An upbeat Larry Krystkowiak posed for a team photo Wednesday on a newly installed court in the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility and described the program as being in “a real healthy place.”

That’s factoring in the losses of two starters and two other scholarship players who have left since May, plus NCAA sanctions for mid-level recruiting violations. Even so, Krystkowiak said as official practice started this week, “I’m as confident about where we are in this process and moving forward with this team as I’ve felt in a long time.”

Krystkowiak also has done some self-study, entering his ninth season at Utah. Having two of his sons start their college basketball careers this week is making him “more cognizant of the human side of things” in dealing with this generation of players, he said. Cam Krystkowiak is enrolled at Dartmouth of the Ivy League after playing for a Massachusetts prep school and his brother Luc is a Utah walk-on forward.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Matt Van Komen at University of Utah basketball practice in Salt Lake City on Wednesday Sept. 25, 2019.

In 2020-21, Utah is scheduled to have two other coaches’ sons on the roster. Former Olympus High School star Rylan Jones, a son of Ute director of basketball operations Chris Jones, will compete for a starting point guard job as a freshman this season. Ian Martinez, a son of new assistant coach Henry Martinez, is a guard from southern California who committed to Utah in May.

Wasatch Academy forward Caleb Lohner has joined Ian Martinez as the centerpieces of a highly ranked recruiting class that’s expected to sign with Utah in November. They will heighten the future expectations for a program that has missed the NCAA Tournament the past three seasons and will be picked about eighth in the Pac-12 in 2019-20.

Speaking on the Marching to Madness podcast, Krystkowiak said, “I really feel like this next three or four years is going to be a heck of a run for Utah basketball.”

Utah’s scholarship roster includes seven freshmen, three sophomores, one junior (JC transfer Alfonso Plummer) and one senior (former walk-on Marc Reininger). “It’s a high-energy group,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s a bunch of guys that are in it for the collective good. We don’t have a whole lot of ego. … It is refreshing.”

Ute forward Timmy Allen has gone from making the Pac-12′s All-Freshman Team to becoming one of Utah’s leaders as a sophomore, out of necessity. Allen has found Utah’s freshmen “easy to lead, to be honest,” he said. “They listen, they learn; they want to listen."

The Utes lost center Jayce Johnson to Marquette as a graduate transfer and forward Donnie Tillman to UNLV with two years of eligibility remaining in a move partly attributed to his mother’s health. Reserve guards Charles Jones Jr. (Portland State) and Naseem Gaskin (Montana) also transferred.

The transfers were “disappointing,” Krystkowiak said, and have led him to think more about building relationships off the court and doing more to relate to his players. Yet he also spoke of being relieved to worry less about players' academic commitment and other issues with the current team, enabling him and his staff to do “what we all signed up for, to help a group of guys that rally want to get better. … I'm not going to say 'addition by subtraction,' but I feel that we're in a real healthy place. The team culture is off the charts.”

Utah's NCAA sanctions, announced in early August, stemmed from violations of the recruiting calendar that the school labeled unintentional. “I'm just happy it's over,” Krystkowiak said, acknowledging the process caused him “some sleepless nights, when I've always thought that we stood for what you're supposed to stand for.”

NCAA basketball teams have six weeks of preseason practice. Utah will host UT-Tyler in an Oct. 30 exhibition game, then open the season Nov. 5 at Nevada and host Mississippi Valley State three days later.


Utah’s breakdown of scholarship basketball players in 2019-20, by class:

Senior: Marc Reininger.

Junior: Alfonso Plummer.

Sophomores: Timmy Allen, Riley Battin and Both Gach.

Freshmen: Jaxon Brenchley, Branden Carlson, Mikael Jantunen, Rylan Jones, Lahat Thioune, Matt Van Komen and Brendan Wenzel.