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Red All Over: It is not Craig Smith’s job to beg players to stay

Smith has lost eight players from last season’s roster, including seven via the NCAA Transfer Portal.

New University of Utah men's basketball coach Craig Smith tours the Huntsman Basketball Facility on March 27, 2021

Thanks to the NCAA Transfer Portal and one-time transfer legislation, it is easier than ever for student-athletes to switch schools.

With that said, part of Craig Smith’s job walking in the door at the University of Utah was to try to re-recruit the roster, none of whom played for him, were recruited by him, or had any allegiances to him. A lot of those guys have left, including some important rotation pieces.

I am here to tell you that that’s OK, and it is not Smith’s job, nor is it the job of any new coach anywhere around the country, to beg players to stay. This is all in the mold of what his predecessor Larry Krystkowiak said repeatedly, and what Utah athletic director Mark Harlan has said publicly in regard to players hitting the portal.

To paraphrase, if you want to be here, great. If you don’t want to be here, that’s fine, too. Everyone will move forward.

Granted, this is a bit of an extreme situation at Utah, with eight players from last season leaving, seven of whom hit the portal. Let’s take a step back from those numbers, though, and look at it rationally.

Even if Krystkowiak were retained, Alfonso Plummer was not expected back next season, and I believe Timmy Allen was going to at least survey his options, too. Jordan Kellier played only sparingly, Norbert Thelissen never made it on campus. Had the COVID-19 pandemic never happened, there is a decent chance Mikael Jantunen would have left to turn professional after his freshman season. Utah was lucky to get a second year out of the Finnish forward.

Beyond those five, sure, Pelle Larsson is undoubtedly a sizable loss, while Ian Martinez walking out the door in the wake of his father not being retained by Smith is the cost of doing business. I think losing Rylan Jones hurts, but not everyone agrees with me. We can save that topic for another day.

If you want to bury Smith over his inability to resell this program to a bunch of players recruited by the last coach, I find that unreasonable.

Frankly, I am still waiting for someone, anyone, to tell me what they would like Smith to do about guys defecting.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• Shameless self-promotion: Salt Lake Tribune colleague Andy Larsen and I are filling in for Bill Riley on ESPN700 on Friday from 11 to 2. I sincerely hope Bill does not come to regret asking me to fill in.

• Bostyn Holt’s commitment to Craig Smith on Tuesday was off the radar, and while it may not have registered with the average fan, it struck me as interesting. Holt did not have a ton of Division I interest out of high school in Portland, Ore., nor did he have a ton at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, but then Coffeyville made the NJCAA National Tournament and Holt played well. He had 12 points and 13 rebounds in the championship game last month, Coffeyville won the whole thing, and high-majors started calling. A 6-foot-7 wing that can guard multiple positions, one source told The Salt Lake Tribune that Holt appeared set to commit to Rick Pitino and Iona before reversing course to Utah. Interesting, indeed.

• Arizona State star Remy Martin, the Pac-12′s leading scorer last season, entered the transfer portal earlier this week after already dropping his name in for the NBA draft. Utah will do its due diligence, but I would be shocked if Martin wound up here, and I’d be shocked if he went back to school at all. The portal is the backup plan, Martin wants to be a pro.

• I am in genuine awe of how badly Northwestern has bungled its athletic director situation. The search took four months, they promoted deputy AD for external affairs Mike Polisky, who was named as a defendant in a cheerleader’s discrimination lawsuit. There was no introductory press conference, which is always a good sign you made the right call. Students protested, and he resigned. Read all of that again and tell me you’re not impressed with the dysfunction.

Your questions

Q: “RSL has gone to mask “recommended” at Rio Tinto. Any word from Harlan & Co. on when plans for RES will be announced?” — @utenick

A: Utah is more than three months out from hosting Weber State on Sept. 2, so you are unlikely to hear anything official on attendance, masks, and other COVID-related matters until much closer to that date.

In fairness, no one knows what our fair state will look like COVID-wise in three months, so it doesn’t benefit Utah, ticket holders, or anyone else with a vested interest to announce something now, or even soon, when things could still change based on local, state and Pac-12 guidance.

I can say that the athletic department has plans in place for Rice-Eccles to be full, but can adjust those plans on a dime if guidance dictates that only a percentage of the stadium is allowed to be filled for a game.

Q: “The NHL postseason begins this week. I struggle to watch much of the regular season, but the NHL playoffs are the best of any major sport. Agree?” — @OuterDarknezz

A: The NHL is absolutely the best playoffs in American sports, which has everything to do with the overtime format.

Sudden-death OT means you’re one shot, one mistake, one rush up the ice from having a game or a series ending in an instant. It is high drama, and it’s awesome.

I stopped paying attention to hockey a long time ago, but if a playoff game goes to overtime, I will go out of my way to watch, especially if Doc Emrick is on the call.

Q: “Over/under on Utah basketball getting 10 wins (admittedly not knowing the schedule).” — @Tim_Populi

A: Tim might have been joking here, but I’ll pretend he isn’t. Over, and it’s not even up for debate.

Even with roughly 80% of the nonconference schedule unknown and the roster incomplete, Craig Smith can coach and Utah, on paper, is not nearly the worst-off team in the Pac-12. Not even close.

I’d like to see what multi-team event the Utes ultimately land in, but there are going to be more than 10 wins on the table in Smith’s first season.

Q: “It seems like Craig Smith and his staff aren’t really looking into high school players for the last few spots. How much of that do you sense is the timing (most are already committed elsewhere) vs. how much is by design? Do you see him going more for transfers or high school kids in the coming years?” — @Mikeyfergyferg

A: Smith and this staff will explore all avenues in recruiting, but I do think his hire in late March was not conducive to really diving into the class of 2021 for recruits. That is no one’s fault, but just the timing of it.

Future recruiting in terms of transfer portal vs. high school kids is an interesting debate, not just with Utah, but all over the country. Baylor showed us that a lineup of transfers can win the national championship. Furthermore, the portal is going to become more and more prevalent to fill holes and address needs.

My two cents: If the general idea is to get old, be old, stay old from a roster standpoint, what benefit is there to recruiting high school kids hard?

Q: “How excited are you about the incoming firestorm every time you tweet positive things about Zach Wilson and the Jets?” — @dtosborn11

A: I am very, very excited to be covering the University of Utah, but having the ex-BYU quarterback under center for my favorite NFL team.

I have no doubt that Utes fans are going to be very rational and not mean about it when I invariably tweet something positive about Wilson. I am also very sure that BYU fans will be rational and not mean about it when I invariably make a joke about a poor throw or an interception Wilson throws.

Yep, pretty pumped about it.

Q: “If you were Craig Smith and this was a perfect, but realistic world (i.e. you can’t say Lillard, LeBron and AD), what would be the perfect way to use the last three scholarships, position and skill-wise?” — @Ben_In_Utah

A: I still think there are two glaring needs, and they have enough scholarships to deal with both.

Utah needs help in the backcourt, where Rollie Worster appears to be the only viable point guard, although Jaxon Brenchley and, to a lesser extent, Bostyn Holt have experience at the position.

The Utes also need frontcourt help. That area is thin depth-wise beyond Branden Carlson, and while Lahat Thioune is coming back after briefly entering the transfer portal, we have no idea what he is given he played sparingly in two seasons for Larry Krystkowiak. If Thioune gave a little something, specifically on the defensive end, I think it would go a long way.

Random musings

• Have you ever freaked out because you thought you lost your wedding ring, only to realize it’s on your finger? Yeah, things are going well.

• I do not understand people that take their hot coffee black. Black coffee tastes like you’re drinking chalk, and the darker the roast, the worse the taste. Drop a little something in there to cut the acidity down. You’ll thank me.

• Stumbling around HBO Max recently, I found one of my guiltiest-pleasure movies, “Knockaround Guys”. I love this movie, but it absolutely stinks to high heaven despite having Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich in supporting roles. We all have awful movies we love, “Knockaround Guys” is one of mine.

• I don’t know if it’s my age (I turned 39 last week), but I can’t listen to rap music before 10 or 11 a.m. these days. This, from someone that would turn the volume all the way up at any and all hours. Getting older sucks.

• You know what Salt Lake City needs now that it’s getting really nice/warm out? Ice cream trucks. If there are ice cream trucks around, I certainly haven’t seen them. Clue me in to where I can find an ice cream truck.

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