University of Utah sophomore guard Both Gach declared for the NBA draft on April 6. The plan, as far as anyone knew, was to merely go through the process, gain feedback from NBA personnel and return to school as a junior.
That is annually the plan of dozens of collegiate underclassmen who declare, but it isn’t always that simple. The fact of the matter is, when a kid throws his name into the draft mix, every conceivable scenario is on the table, including transferring.
On Thursday afternoon, Larry Krystkowiak took a phone call from Gach, who delivered the news that he intends to transfer if he removes his name from the draft pool.
By 7 p.m., the transfer news had leaked. Two hours later, Krystkowiak released a statement by way of the Utah athletic department offering surprise at Gach’s intentions. Furthermore, reading between the lines of the statement, Krystkowiak was not pleased with the development.
Gach is the 19th Ute to transfer since 2016 and the second to transfer this offseason, joining 7-foot-4 freshman Matt Van Komen, who has since transferred to Saint Mary’s. Gach’s current standing mirrors that of Donnie Tillman. After playing two seasons at Utah, Tillman declared for the NBA draft last spring. He eventually withdrew, but wound up transferring to UNLV in July. Tillman played last season for the Runnin’ Rebels, but has again entered the NCAA transfer portal.
In a Friday afternoon phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Krystowiak again painted the decision as a surprise, while not shying away from the statement released 18 hours prior.
“It was a surprise for sure,” Krystkowiak said. “It wasn’t something that we anticipated. Some of this stuff, maybe there is a correlation with being away from campus for an extended period of time. You’re gone for eight or nine weeks, and there’s a lot of voices.
“In my opinion, there are a lot of kids that get great advice on plans, what to do, how to forge your path, and I think, unfortunately, there are a lot of kids that don’t get great advice. When you’re far away, it’s hard to have that impact on them. When you’re not in the gym, you’re not in team meetings and different things like that, so I think that’s part of my take on it.”
Every last detail as to why Gach and his advisers felt it best to leave Salt Lake City is not as important as the bottom-line fact that Gach, who, when healthy and engaged, was the Utes’ most-dangerous weapon on both ends, is out after 57 games across two seasons.
That version of Gach, the one who buried Nevada, Minnesota, and Kentucky early in the season, then went on a tour de force to close the season, was not a consistent presence. To that end, Gach’s departure represents a hole to fill, but it doesn’t represent a crippling loss, especially with more backcourt help on the way with incoming freshmen Pelle Larsson and Ian Martinez.
“We talk about being a big family and I think there’s really important times for kids to get a break, but this is very unique [with the COVID-19 pandemic],” Krystkowiak said. “It flips the switch for people, you get a little stir crazy and there’s just a lot of different voices, a lot of different things that are going on. That’s all part of it.”
Utah now has a scholarship to play with for 2020-21. At this late date, the talent pool of high school seniors may be thin, but that may change if the number of 2021 recruits reclassifying to 2020 continues to rise. The Utes could also dip into transfer portal, either for a sit-out transfer or, more preferably, a graduate transfer with immediate eligibility.
On the other end, where Gach ultimately lands is intriguing as that decision is multi-layered. Gach entered the transfer portal Monday morning, multiple sources told The Tribune. His suitors are expected to vary in range, and will include his adopted hometown school, the University of Minnesota.
The NCAA deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft and maintain collegiate eligibility was June 3, but has been extended to amid the pandemic, so Gach will have plenty of time to weigh his options. The new withdrawal date is TBD as the NCAA waits to see what the NBA does with its calendar.
As far as Gach and the NBA go, Krystkowiak has been around the block enough times to know that just because a kid declares for the NBA draft, that doesn’t mean the kid is hellbent on going to the NBA right now.
Getting NBA feedback and returning is one route, transferring is another, but so too is not returning to school at all and beginning a professional career abroad. That latter factor deserves real attention here for two reasons.
One, while Gach is not viewed as a legitimate NBA prospect, he could make some money right now in Europe, albeit not at the highest levels quite yet. Two, if you’re willing to believe Gach is a pro in some fashion, can anyone blame a kid, who grew up in a working class Minnesota town after his parents fled civil war in South Sudan, for opting to get paid?
“You want your kids to lean on you for advice,” Krystkowiak said. “I want our players to all be able to make the NBA, but I want them to make a decision that makes sense to give them the best chance to play in the NBA. I played in the NBA, I coached in the NBA and I have a pretty good understanding for what it takes.
“I think sometimes, you’re seen as a conflict of interest if you’re going to help provide information through NBA teams. People advising kids may think ‘Oh, you’ve got a horse in the race, you’re not going to tell us how it is.’ I am telling you how it is. It might not be the best news or the best outlook right now, but we do have your best interest in mind. That’s when I think sometimes you lose a little bit of a connection and a young man can start thinking there’s another path that might be better.”