Walking behind a Swedish recruit last fall as they climbed a flight of stairs, University of Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak noticed his calves trying to pop through his jeans with each passing step.
At that moment, the coach thought that this combo guard resembled Cody Barton, who at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds punished Pac-12 offenses before being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks as a middle linebacker.
Comparing a European youngster to an NFL brute may have been tongue-in-cheek, but his point was valid. Pelle Larsson has the physical tools to make an immediate impact. He’s also one of the most mysterious of the new Utes recruits.
On Nov. 8, Larsson committed to the Utes, helping to buoy what was at the time the Pac-12’s top-ranked recruiting class and No. 5 nationally according to 247sports. Those numbers have since dipped to No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 30 nationally through Sunday, but Krystkowiak still has himself a big-time haul for the 2020 recruiting cycle.
There has been exponentially less media coverage of Larsson here compared to incoming classmates Ian Martinez from JSerra Catholic (Calif.) and Wasatch Academy standout Caleb Lohner. Largely because he is not from the United States and he did not play high school basketball here.
So, what are the Utes getting once Larsson arrives, whenever that winds up being thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I really liked him, I told every college coach who asked that I thought he would be a steal,” ESPN NBA draft analyst Jonathan Givony told The Salt Lake Tribune. “He’s really athletic, great body, great size, really versatile, really smart, passes, rebounds, guards.
“The jumper is the one thing he needs to work on, and he’s tried to do that. He’s a worker and a really intelligent kid. He could have gone anywhere academically. Stanford wanted him and they can’t get anyone in.”
Givony watched Larsson average 15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists for Sweden last summer in the B Division at the FIBA U18 European Championships last summer in Romania. He was also in Macedonia for the 2018 U18 Euros, when Larsson played up a level as a 17-year-old, so he has seen the maturation, and is more qualified than most to judge Larsson’s game at this stage.
One benefit with Larsson is that he played professionally this winter in Sweden’s top division with BC Lulea, averaging 7.6 points in 19.5 minutes across 26 games.
“He had a very good season, and he played against men, guys who are 25, 30 years old, who were all-conference in college,” Givony said. “I think he can play in the Pac-12, but there will be an adjustment and I don’t think he’ll be in any rush. He’ll unpack his bags, find a role, and he’ll be tremendous as an upperclassman.”
Where Larsson may fit into the rotation early as a freshman is up for some debate for two reasons. One, the roster is in flux as Both Gach goes through the NBA draft process. Two, with or without Gach, but especially with him, the Utes backcourt already has a ton of options.
If Gach comes back to Utah for his junior season, on paper, it makes sense that he, Rylan Jones and Timmy Allen would comprise the opening-night backcourt, provided there are no more transfers or defections between now and then. Microwave scoring guard Alfonso Plummer finished last season with a flourish and will challenge for rotation minutes, while Jaxon Brenchley played in 31 games as a freshman.
All of that is before you consider what 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman guard Brendan Wenzel can bring to the table as he debuts at the college level. So, what about the new guys?
Krystkowiak believes Larsson can play any of the three backcourt spots, with Givony pointing out Larsson even guarded power forwards at U18s. Givony, though, believes Larsson is best on the ball. Hypothetically, Larsson coming in and providing a stiff preseason challenge to Jones at the point would be a fascinating early storyline.
Martinez needs to mature physically, but the Costa Rican-born slasher is as explosive an athlete as Krystkowiak has had in his tenure at Utah. Lohner has been painted as something of a hybrid combo forward, but with Utah lacking in size underneath, his services may be best used at power forward.
However this shakes out, this is the problem every coach wants to have, too much talent to decide what to do with.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem, I’m far more excited to try and fit all of these guys in,” Krystkowiak said. “I don’t really see this as a logjam.”