There has been widespread internet rumor-mongering lately as to where Mikael Jantunen is, what his status with the University of Utah basketball program is and what his future plans may be.
As Craig Smith’s first Utes roster starts to take some shape, it is now time to dive into the Jantunen situation.
Jantunen is not in the NCAA Transfer Portal. Multiple sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune that the 6-foot-8 Finnish forward remains in Salt Lake City as the spring semester winds down. He is listed on Utah’s publicly-available, incomplete 2021-22 roster.
Jantunen, who will turn 21 next week, is not expected to return next season, with the overwhelming, well-placed notion being that he will look to begin a professional career back home in Europe. For now, per sources, he continues to work out on campus, but not as part of any organized team activities under Smith. Working out, but not working out with the team is a sure sign that something is afoot.
This is where I point out that, while recruiting outside the United States has become more commonplace as the sport has become globally relevant over the last 30 years, recruiting Europe means American colleges may not get the full four years from some prospects, because there is often money to be made at an early age where they come from.
If Jantunen wanted to be a professional, he could have skipped college altogether and started getting paid as a teenager coming out of Helsinki Basketball Academy a couple of years ago. Utah got two years from him and frankly, it may be lucky to have gotten that many. One source believes Jantunen was considering leaving Utah after his freshman year, but the COVID-19 pandemic abroad lessened professional opportunities, not only for Jantunen, but for countless other overseas pros, so he gave it another year.
To be clear, if Jantunen does an about-face and wants to return, Smith would absolutely have him back next season. If he does indeed skip his remaining college eligibility in favor of a professional career, he should not be blamed for that. He has a family, he wants to go home, he wants the opportunity to earn a living playing basketball, so good for him for having that option.
What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise
• Here’s the answer to a question some of you have had: Serbian shooting guard recruit Lazar Stefanovic, who committed to Larry Krystkowiak on Oct. 28 and signed his National Letter of Intent weeks later, remains on board to play for this new coaching staff. Craig Smith and assistant Eric Peterson have international recruiting chops, just like Krystkowiak’s staff did.
• The Utah spring game is Saturday and, honestly, unfortunately, spring football games generally do not yield much in the way of excitement or the ability to learn anything substantial. It will be a controlled live scrimmage and given it will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks, I have no expectation of Kyle Whittingham and his coordinators opening up the playbook. Spring games indicate that fall will soon be upon us, they are fun for the fans to dive into and start thinking about football, and that’s about it. The main objective is to get out of Saturday healthy.
• Whittingham has not announced what veteran players will sit or be limited on Saturday, but I’m willing to bet Devin Lloyd, Nick Ford and maybe Charlie Brewer are among them. Brant Kuithe has been limited all spring, so he’s a safe bet to sit, too. Just an educated guess.
• Timmy Allen played three seasons at Utah, all of them for mediocre basketball teams that did not reach the postseason. He wants to win, and he wasn’t willing to wait for Craig Smith to figure it out. He’s going to be on a winning team at Texas next season. I get it. Nice kid, who was very accommodating to the local media in Salt Lake City. I hope it all works out for him.
• It’s always good when the high-profile alumni of a basketball program are bashing the coaching search, which is what Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas did with Arizona earlier this week. Yeah, that bodes well.
Q: “With the loss of Timmy Allen, and possibly [Mikael Jantunen], who does Utah turn to for scoring inside the paint? They’ve picked up some outside shooting, but seem lean on the inside.” — @OuterDarknezz
A: Utah didn’t exactly have robust options in the paint last season, or the season before that, so let’s not act like this is some new problem, its lack of interior scoring.
It is, however, an issue. Branden Carlson does not spend the majority of his time in the paint, and Lahat Thioune largely remains an unknown. Utah could clearly use some size, but players like that don’t exactly grow on trees.
In one of Craig Smith’s early interviews upon his arrival, he said something to the effect that his Utah State teams were physically imposing. As currently constructed, the Utes do not come off as physically imposing, and it is likely going to be hard to build that type of roster, at least in Year One.
Q: “Besides good bagels and obviously pizza, what’s something that’s distinctly New York that, if imported to Salt Lake City/Utah, would be an immediate boon to the economy?” — @benwilkinson
A: I spent an absurd amount of time pondering this question. I mean, a STUPID amount of time, and then it hit me.
I don’t know how or if this is possible, but if Salt Lake City bagel places and pizzerias started importing the New York tap water, the bagels and pizza out here would get the locals buzzing. Yes, it has everything to do with the water, and anyone telling you different is wrong.
Once you get the New York water out here, here’s the genius million-dollar move. Ready? There is a very unassuming bagel spot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called Bagels and Co., which does both bagels and pizza. This place uses the bagel dough for its pizza crust and it is absolutely awesome. Check that, capital-A Awesome.
Whoever gets the New York water out here is going to control the Salt Lake City food scene, because that person will have the best bagels and pizza in at least a 1,000-mile radius.
Q: “What do you think of ESPN’s win probability of 6.9 for the Utes?” — @UnholiestJedi
A: Let’s call that 7-5. Yes, that strikes me as a little low, but I could see it.
Utah finishing 7-5 objectively means it loses to both USC and Arizona State in October. Oregon and Colorado are on the schedule, as are trips to Corvallis and Palo Alto.
Going 7-5 is a possibility, but boy, things would really have to go poorly for that to happen. Assuming health and certain position groups panning out, 7-5 is the absolute floor when trying to decide what the final record will be.
Q: “Do the Runnin’ Utes compete next season, or is ‘rebuild’ the word?” — @BenSpore
A: This is not the NBA, where a rebuild could take years and years to accomplish. The NCAA Transfer Portal and impending one-time transfer legislation have all but guaranteed annual free agency, which means, if a coaching staff can hit the portal well, a “rebuild” could take no time at all.
With that said, Utah has work to do if it wants to be competitive in the Pac-12 next season. I think UNLV transfer David Jenkins is a good veteran piece that can take on some of the scoring burden. Cincinnati transfer Gabe Madsen, a big-time scorer in high school, is more of a question mark after his freshman season lasted all of two games.
We don’t know what this Utah roster is yet because there are holes to fill, but still a lot of time to fill them with a lot of options to choose from.
Will Utah be competitive? I think so, because Craig Smith will coach up what he has. Will Utah be competitive in at least the middle of the Pac-12? TBD.
• It snowed in Sugar House on Wednesday and, honestly, that ruined my mood for the remainder of the day. Folks in my Twitter mentions told me it snows occasionally in June? Are you kidding me?
• I have never been blown away by a hot dog in my life. Absolutely never. Stop trying to fancy up hot dogs and leave well enough alone.
• I wish I loved anything as much as my dog loves scratching at the couch cushions with his favorite toy in his mouth. The working theory is he’s trying to bury the toy, but clearly, he’s not going to explain to us what he’s doing.