As the Craig Smith era begins to unfold for the University of Utah basketball program, a familiar name is coming back to Salt Lake City as part of Smith’s first coaching staff.
DeMarlo Slocum, a UNLV assistant who was on Larry Krystkowiak’s staff from 2011-19, will return to Utah as an assistant under Smith, multiple sources have confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune. News of Slocum’s impending second tour of duty with the Utes was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The same sources told The Tribune Tuesday evening that Utah State assistant coach Eric Peterson is also expected to be hired to Smith’s staff. Peterson has been with Smith as an assistant for seven seasons, four at South Dakota, followed by the last three in Logan. Peterson was the Aggies’ lead recruiter and is credited with unearthing Potuguese-born USU star big man Neemias Queta, this season’s Mountain West Player and Defensive Player of the Year.
On a conference call with reporters on Monday, Utah State athletic director John Hartwell said one Aggies assistant would be following Smith to Utah, but declined to say which one.
The connection between Smith and Slocum is that both were on staff together at Colorado State under Tim Miles a decade ago. Slocum left Fort Collins following the 2010-2011 season to take an assistant position at Utah, where he stayed until 2019 before going back to his hometown of Las Vegas and UNLV. Smith stuck with Miles at Colorado State, then followed him when he got the Nebraska job in 2012.
Smith, who was hired as Utah’s 16th head coach on Saturday morning, left Nebraska in 2014 to take his first head coaching position at South Dakota.
Staff-wise, with Slocum and Peterson taking two assistant coaching slots with the Utes, Smith still needs to figure out at least his third assistant spot, plus his director of basketball operations.
During his introductory Zoom call on Saturday morning, Smith said he would consider retaining members of Krystkowiak’s coaching staff, which included Tommy Connor, Andy Hill and Henry Martinez.
Hill indicated on Tuesday night via Twitter that he is headed to New Mexico to serve as an assistant under new head coach Richard Pitino.
Martinez is the father of budding freshman guard Ian Martinez. Smith retaining Henry Martinez in some form or fashion may help dictate whether or not Ian Martinez remains in the program. Krystkowiak was not shy about the fact that the two were essentially a package deal.
Riley Battin to return after entering transfer portal
A week after Riley Battin opted to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal in the middle of Utah’s coaching search, the 6-foot-9 junior forward indicated on Twitter Tuesday evening that he would return for the 2021-22 season.
Battin played in all 25 games in 2020-21, but, dating back to late in the 2019-20 season, saw his role diminish with the emergence of sophomore forward Mikael Jantunen. Battin averaged 21.9 minutes per game last season, while Jantunen averaged 28.1 per contest.
That said, Battin has played in a roster-high 87 games over the last three seasons. That type of veteran presence could be a major asset to Smith as he attempts to instill his system and culture in his first year.
With Battin set to return, Utah now has four players in the transfer portal, Lahat Thioune, Jordan Kellier, Alfonso Plummer and All-Pac-12 forward Timmy Allen. Thioune and Kellier both entered the portal March 15, the day before Krystkowiak was fired, Allen on Friday, the day before Smith was hired, and Plummer on Monday.
Allen, specifically, is among the top transfers currently available in the portal, which topped 1,000 names on Tuesday.