Utah grants Caleb Lohner full release from National Letter of Intent

Wasatch Academy star Caleb Lohner (dark jersey) attempts a shot against Oak Hill Academy in the GEICO National Championships last April in New York City. | Photo courtesy of Wasatch Academy basketball.

After more than a week of conjecture, assumptions and guesswork, the University of Utah has granted incoming freshman forward Caleb Lohner a full release from his National Letter of Intent, the school announced Monday afternoon.

A full release from his NLI means Lohner is free to attend another Division I school without restriction. The widely-believed assumption is Lohner will wind up at in-state rival BYU, where his father, Matt, played during the 1991-92 season and again from 1994-96.

“We are obviously very disappointed in Caleb’s recent decision requesting a release from his NLI," Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak said in a statement. “However, we will honor his wishes and turn our focus towards the motivated, talented and connected players and coaches that are committed to our program. We look forward to getting back on the court together this fall and return to prominence within the Pac-12.”

How this situation was going to play out had been up for discussion in recent days. What was not up for discussion was Krystkowiak and athletic director Mark Harlan being in the driver’s seat.

The National Letter of Intent is essentially a legally-binding agreement between a student-athlete and a school once he/she signs it. To get a release, a student-athlete must submit a release form to both the current school’s athletic department as well as the NCAA Eligibility Center.

Utah had 30 days to respond once it had the release form. Its primary options were to grant Lohner the release, which would free him to go anywhere he wants, or not grant a release, which would keep Lohner tethered to Utah. Lohner would have had the right to go through an appeals process if Utah did not grant him a release.

Had Lohner not gained the release, he was still free to go to BYU, or any other school he wants for that matter, but he would have lost a year of eligibility.

On June 4, the Deseret News reported that Lohner, who transferred in the middle of his junior year from Flower Mound (Texas) High School to play for his mother’s cousin, Dave Evans, at budding national contender Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, had requested a release from his letter of intent at Utah.

Lohner signed it on Nov. 13, the first day of the early signing period, after offering a verbal commitment to Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak almost three months earlier. At the time of the verbal commitment, Lohner was ranked as one of the top-100 class of 2020 recruits in the country via the 247sports composite.

There was no evidence that Krystkowiak and Harlan intended to hold Lohner up if he wanted out. Such a move almost never plays well in the public forum, even in a case like this where the recruit intends to play for the in-state rival. No matter how things proceeded, Utah was going to come out on the short end.

Krystkowiak accepting Lohner’s verbal commitment last August meant the 10th-year head coach had worked under the assumption for nine months that Lohner was coming for the 2020-21 season. In turn, that roster spot was filled, which meant Krystkowiak passed on other recruits. Now, in mid-June, which is very late in this recruiting cycle, that roster spot is about to be vacant.

The Utes are at 11 scholarships for 2020-21, two below the NCAA maximum of 13 after losing Lohner, and Both Gach, who announced his intentions to transfer last month. This assumes Timmy Allen’s return as he continues to go through the NBA draft process.

The Utes are in the mix for three-star Veritas Prep (Calif.) wing Carlos Rosario, who is expected to announce his destination Wednesday from a group of finalists including the Utes, Washington State, Boise State and Iona.

As far as recruiting wins late in the 2020 cycle go, Rosario would be good, but may not offer the immediate help Utah could use, especially up front if Lohner is out of the picture.

To that end, keeping an eye on the NCAA Transfer Portal remains crucial, even at this already-late date. Once the NBA draft withdrawal deadline of Aug. 3 passes, the portal may produce one more small rush of immediately-eligible graduate transfers.