Utah basketball’s Brendan Wenzel is taking a rare redshirt

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Brendan Wenzel (30) makes a move inside, as University of Texas at Tyler Patriots Bradley Mason (1) defends, in basketball action between the Utes and the University of Texas at Tyler Patriots, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Oct. 30, 2019.

Brendan Wenzel shows up to practice every day and puts in the same work as his University of Utah teammates.

On game day, the freshman shooting guard dresses, goes through warmups, gets a sweat going, then takes a seat on the bench as the game begins. Barring something catastrophic in terms of injuries or discipline, Wenzel is not going to leave the bench this season.

The San Antonio native is taking a redshirt. Unlike college football, where freshmen redshirting is commonplace, doing so in college basketball is more of a rarity.

Utah is playing its 25th game of the season late Thursday night against UCLA. Now consider what Wenzel’s psyche might be like at this point. He is a college freshman, getting acclimated to all things college, but unable to play the sport he is there to play.

“The idea of a redshirt year is because the coaching staff and the program believe in you, and it’s worth taking the year,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, whose son, Luc, is also taking a redshirt as a freshman. “As long as you’re handling your business in the weight room, in practice, and paying attention in film sessions, it passes. It’s not easy to redshirt, but I think he has gained a lot out of it. We look forward to having him for four years.”

“Being in practice, knowing I’m not going to play, I need to make sure I’m doing my job on the scout team,” Wenzel told The Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday after practice. “I have to go hard so I’m getting these guys prepared for the game. In the game, I’m just trying to stay positive and bring some energy during warmups.”

A three-star recruit and a top-100 shooting guard nationally in the Class of 2019 out of O’Connor High School, Wenzel originally signed early with UTEP. Without going into too much detail as to why, other than saying he no longer felt comfortable in that environment, Wenzel was let out of his National Letter of Intent and hit the open market last spring as a senior.

In the market for some more size on the wing, Utah kicked the tires on Wenzel. The Utes were not in on Wenzel originally during the recruiting process, but associate head coach Tommy Connor had seen the 6-foot-6, 200-pounder at one point at an AAU tournament.

Wenzel’s size and shooting ability both checked off boxes, and by any standard, Wenzel was going to be a quality late recruiting win for someone, so Utah pushed forward.

“After I reopened my recruitment, I had a couple of big schools hit me up, and Utah was one of them,” Wenzel said. “They were consistent and when I came on my visit, I loved it. I knew I wanted to come here.

“Everyone welcomed me with open arms. They were comfortable with me, which made me feel comfortable. When I got up here, I felt like I was home. They made me feel like I needed to be here.”

Wenzel did not show up in Salt Lake City with Krystkowiak intending to redshirt him, something the ninth-year head coach has rarely done. Wenzel went through the preseason, played in the team’s lone exhibition game against the University of Texas at Tyler, then took a DNP-CD in Utah’s season-opener at Nevada.

At halftime of the second game of the season against Mississippi Valley State, a 94-point win in which Wenzel would have seen extended second-half action, the idea of a redshirt was floated to him. Had he played, this year of eligibility would have been burned.

Wenzel did not play in that second game. Taking the long view into account, Wenzel discussed things with his family and everyone was in agreement. Taking the redshirt year was the prudent move. He gets the year of free education, with no pressure to play immediately. He can learn, mature, and grow with an eye towards next season.

“I think it kind of fit him,” Krystkowiak said. “This isn’t just a coaching-staff decision. We try to find a win-win with a student-athlete and their family. We didn’t think he was ready to play at this point, but if we didn’t think he was capable, we wouldn’t have been talking redshirt because it’s an investment on our behalf too. In talking with him, he was keen on it because he admitted there was a lot on his plate and it wasn’t easy.”