For Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak, recruiting Southern California always made sense

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Riley Battin (21) shoots as the University of Utah hosts Oregon State, NCAA men's basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020.

Los Angeles • When Larry Krystkowiak arrived at the University of Utah in 2011, he wasn’t going to try and reinvent the wheel in terms of recruiting.

In fact, he took a page from late, legendary Utes head coach Rick Majerus. Recruit the best Utah kids, have some international flavor, and make hay in the state of California. More specifically, talent-rich, population-dense Southern California.

With the Utes playing at USC on Thursday and at UCLA on Sunday, it is worth noting that Krystkowiak and his staff have effectively recruited Southern California for a number of years. Not all of their recruiting wins from the region played at Utah for four years, and not all of them have panned out, but there is no denying the staff has recruited well there.

“There’s only so many that can go to UCLA or USC if that’s their desire,” Krystkowiak said."I think we’ve been really fortunate with guys, and it’s really a lengthy list of guys. I think kids want to be in the Pac-12, it makes perfectly good sense.”

Utes sophomore Riley Battin is from Oak Park, Calif., roughly 40 miles outside Los Angeles. Timmy Allen is not from Southern California, but played for one of the region’s preeminent AAU programs, Compton Magic.

“I always mess with the guys here,” Battin said. “That's the best high school basketball in the country. So, I mean, there's tons of talent and I think there's a lot of resources to offer people to get better. I was just blessed to grow up there. I loved playing high school basketball there, and I'm grateful for it.”

Sedrick Barefield (Corona, Calif.) was an All-Pac-12 player, as was Justin Bibbins (Carson, Calif.), but as a grad transfer.

One of Krystkowiak’s top exports since his arrival, Delon Wright, grew up in LA, starred at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, then spent two years at City College of San Francisco before Krystkowiak got him for two more with the Utes.

All-Pac-12 guard Brandon Taylor, a Pacific Hills High School graduate, Mission Viejo native Jayce Johnson, and on the list goes.

“We’ve had success,” Krystkowiak said. “I think there’s good relationships with us and kids from Southern California. That’s a big part of it.”

Utah has two days between games this weekend, and Krystkowiak was not shy about noting that he and his staff will use that time to check in on some things.

The big event in the region this weekend is the 25th installment of the Nike Extravaganza, a two-day, 14-game behemoth at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana.

Friday night’s highlighted game is JSerra Catholic (Calif.) vs. Chicago public-school power Whitney Young. JSerra features 2020 four-star Utes commit Ian Martinez, among the highest-rated recruits to commit to Krystkowiak in his nine years in Salt Lake City. Lions head coach Kevin Wilkinson told The Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday night that Martinez is dealing with a hip pointer, and is unlikely to play Friday.

Highlighted by Martinez, Krystkowiak’s 2020 recruiting class, currently ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and 18th nationally by 247sports, is following the Majerus model.

Martinez is the headliner, Wasatch Academy forward Caleb Lohner is the No. 2-rated recruit in the state of Utah behind Michigan State-bound teammate Mady Sisoko, and Swedish combo guard Pelle Larsson has some buzz around him after a productive showing at the FIBA U18 European Championship last summer.


At the Galen Center, Los Angeles

Tipoff: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. MST

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Series history: Utah leads, 21-17

Last meeting: Utah, 83-74 (2019)

About the Utes: Utah completed a weekend sweep of the Washington schools with a 76-64 win over Washington State on Saturday at the Huntsman Center. Rylan Jones scored a game-high 24 points on his way to being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week on Monday … Sophomore guard Timmy Allen is one of three Power Five players to be averaging 19 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game this season. Allen’s 19 points per game ranks him fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring … Utah is 8-4 in regular-season games against USC since entering the Pac-12 in 2011 … The Utes are 1-4 against this season against teams at least receiving votes in the AP Top 25. The Trojans are receiving votes this week.

About the Trojans: The Trojans have stepped forward as one of three or four teams with a legitimate chance to win the Pac-12 regular-season title. They split on the road last weekend against the Oregon schools, blowing out Oregon State after falling at Oregon in double overtime … Freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu, a potential first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, is averaging 17.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks … USC’s NET of 40 through Tuesday’s games is fourth-highest in the Pac-12 behind Oregon, Colorado and Stanford.