With or without Both Gach, next season’s Utah basketball roster will be more experienced and more talented

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah guard Both Gach has declared himself eligible for the upcoming NBA Draft, but will retain the option to return to school. The Utes could be good enough to finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 if Gach returns; but even if he doesn't, Larry Krytkowiak's team will be more experienced and talented than last season's edition.

On the evening of April 6, University of Utah sophomore guard Both Gach announced he was declaring for the NBA draft, with the intention of testing the waters and maintaining his college eligibility.

Late Sunday evening, the deadline for early entrants to submit their names for the draft pool came and went. The NBA’s official list of early entrants was released Tuesday evening. Gach’s name is on it, so with the deadline to remove your name and maintain NCAA eligibility looming on June 3, Gach is on the clock.

Behind Gach, classmate Timmy Allen’s name appeared on the early-entry list released by the NBA on Tuesday evening. For as long as Gach and Allen keep their names in the NBA draft mix, Utah’s roster, which is at the NCAA scholarship maximum of 13 with Gach and Allen, will be in flux. This could become further complicated if the COVID-19 pandemic forces the June 25 NBA draft to be moved to later in the summer or even into the fall, but that situation remains fluid.

Gach has a potentially life-altering decision to make in the next five weeks. Whichever way that decision goes, it will have ripple effects across coach Larry Krystkowiak’s team.

What if Gach returns?

In a wide-ranging interview with The Salt Lake Tribune last month, Krystkowiak readily admitted that Gach’s body language and engagement were not always at a high level during what could be defined as an enigmatic sophomore season.

In the next breath, Krystkowiak felt that when Gach is engaged and locked in, he is the Utes’ most-athletic, most-dangerous weapon on offense, not to mention a long, athletic, capable perimeter defender.

If Gach not only returns to Salt Lake City, but returns as the latter, which was evident in a three-game tear to end the regular season, Utah will likely be projected as a top-half Pac-12 team to begin the 2020-21 season.

Gach returning offers continuity, which would be a welcome sight after Utah had the third-youngest roster in the country last season. Gach started 25 of the 27 games he played in, classmate Timmy Allen started all 31 games. Freshman point guard Rylan Jones started all 28 games he played in, while classmate and promising 7-foot center Branden Carlson played in 30 games, including 29 starts.

If Utah has no more defections, an opening-night starting lineup of Jones, Allen, Gach, Carlson and either Riley Battin or Mikael Jantunen, would represent between 206 and 237 career games played. That range is much better than the 2019-20 opener at Nevada when Krystkowiak’s starting five of Jones, Allen, Gach, Battin and Carlson had just 90 career games between them.

What if Gach leaves?

Nothing is imminent, but the fact Gach has his name in the NBA draft pool means everything is on the table. He could stay in the draft and begin his professional career, he could pull out of the draft and transfer a la Donnie Tillman, but either way, in fairness, the possibility does exist that Gach does not return to Utah.

On paper, if Gach leaves, it does not cripple Utah, but it does put new factors into play. Krystkowiak would then be forced to fill that hole, likely by making sure members of his highly touted freshman class are ready to take on expanded roles. Getting his freshmen ready without the benefit of face-to-face summer workouts on campus thanks to COVID-19 is a problem, but that is going to be a problem for everyone starting next month.

A reasonable scenario based on current personnel would be to slide Swedish combo guard Pelle Larsson into the starting lineup. Krystkowiak said in the aforementioned interview that he believes Larsson can handle any of the three backcourt spots, while the belief among some observers is that Larsson can defend power forwards if necessary.

One potential downfall of that plan is the on-the-fly adjustment as Larsson acclimates himself to the United States and its style of basketball. JSerra Catholic (Calif.) guard Ian Martinez, the son of Utes assistant coach Henry Martinez, will also be a threat to see the floor immediately thanks in part to his explosive athleticism.

If Gach leaves and Utah has a scholarship to play with, Krystkowiak and his staff could look for a late high school addition from the class of 2020, but the more-likely scenario is hitting the transfer portal. Among Utah’s primary needs is more size, which could come in the form of an immediately eligible graduate transfer.

One-time transfer legislation could muddle things

On May 20, the NCAA Division I Council could potentially vote on a one-time transfer waiver that would allow all transfers in football and basketball to be immediately eligible. If passed, it would go into effect for 2020-21. The vote may also be pushed back to January.

Under current NCAA rules, student-athletes must sit out a year of game action after transferring from one school to another, unless they obtain a waiver.

If the vote happens and the legislation is passed on May 20, the result could essentially be free agency, which would complicate things for coaches like Krystkowiak, current student athletes and high school recruits across the country.

Rosters, already in flux every spring because of NBA draft declarations, would now be in flux with college players having the ability to transfer once without penalty.

How this legislation would specifically affect Utah remains to be seen, but given the sheer number of names currently in the transfer portal already, it stands to reason the number would rise.