Utah basketball coaches Larry Krystkowiak and Lynne Roberts, and others, responding as mental health issues move to forefront

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah freshman forward Lola Pendande talks with head coach Lynne Roberts practice with the team Sept. 26, 2019 at the Huntsman Basketball Center.

University of Utah women’s basketball head coach Lynne Roberts played her college basketball at Division II Seattle Pacific in the mid-1990s.

At the time, mental-health issues were not a widely talked-about topic, and athletic departments certainly were not employing teams of professionals to help deal with such things. We are living in a different time now, though. Mental health is often at the forefront when it comes to the wellbeing of student-athletes, and any Division I athletic department worth its salt has professionals in this area on staff.

Still, leave it to Roberts to remind everybody how far this topic has come over a generation.

“When I played in college, no one asked how I was feeling,” Roberts said. “No one really cared, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t people 20 years ago, 30 years ago that didn’t have issues.”

This topic made news in college basketball late last week when Ohio State freshman point guard DJ Carton announced on Twitter he would be taking a leave of absence from the program in order to tend to mental-health issues. This sort of announcement out of a major program would have moved the needle regardless, but it became a much bigger deal because Carton was a four-star recruit and the highest-rated Buckeye commit since 2014.

Carton’s leave of absence was a reminder that as openly discussing mental health is becoming less taboo, the responsibilities that coaches face in helping young people have radically changed over the last few years.

“First of all, I think we’re all very cognizant of this not being all about basketball,” said Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who was quick to note the presence of Dr. Jonathan Ravarino, Utah’s Director of Psychology and Wellness. “It’s that we try to help everybody grow up, and I’ve shared stories of my own struggles with different things. Our players, we’ve had numerous team get-togethers where we open up and share things.”

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

“It’s nice that we have the resources and we have the staff that is genuinely in tune with each one of our athletes,” Roberts added. “It certainly has become more common and you have to be very, very in tune with it.”

Krystkowiak, who played for six teams across nine NBA seasons, is not naive to the fact that NBA players’ willingness to discuss and treat their own mental-health struggles can help others discuss and treat theirs.

In March 2018, five-time All-Star forward Kevin Love went public with his mental-health issues in a piece he wrote for The Players’ Tribune. Earlier that year, DeMar DeRozan, then of the Toronto Raptors, also went public with his struggles in a lengthy story in the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest newspapers.

Love and DeRozan, with lengthy NBA careers, career earnings in the hundreds of millions, and fans across the globe have been credited with helping widen the conversation about mental health.

“Even that, for me, in my position, knowing that those players have opened up, and asked for help, and been very transparent, it’s made it easier for me to talk to guys and share stories about what we’re going through,” Krystkowiak said. “I think that’s a big key, and we’re learning more and more about it.

“As they always say, this life deal doesn’t come with an owner’s manual, it doesn’t always just go as planned. Sometimes, we need to lean for a little bit of help on that side, for sure.”


At the Huntsman Center

Tipoff: Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Series history: Utah leads, 17-10

Last meeting: Stanford, 70-66 (2019)

About the Cardinal: Stanford helped their NCAA Tournament resume on Saturday with their best win of the season, a 70-60 decision over then-No. 14 Oregon in Palo Alto. Junior forward Oscar da Silva had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the win on his to Pac-12 Player of the Week honors … da Silva leads the Cardinal in both scoring (16.8 PPG) and rebounding (6.3 RPG) … Statistically, Stanford is producing an elite defense. The Cardinal are No. 7 nationally in scoring defense (59.7 PPG), 17th in field goal percentage defense (38.3 percent) and 21st in 3-point field goal percentage defense (38 percent).

About the Utes: After sweeping the Washington schools at home, Utah was swept at the Southern California schools, falling 68-64 at USC and 73-57 at UCLA … Against the Bruins, Riley Battin led three players in double figures with 14 points, but the Utes shot just 39.3 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range … Sophomore guard Both Gach missed both games over the weekend with a knee injury. Gach went through a warmups and was considered a game-time decision before being rules out of both. He dressed vs. USC, but did not vs. UCLA. His status for Stanford is unknown.