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TribUte newsletter: Craig Smith deserves the benefit of the doubt

Farmington High School star Collin Chandler committed to BYU on Wednesday after it appeared for weeks he would pick Utah

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah coach Craig Smith as the Utah Utes host the Westminster Griffins, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

The TribUte is a weekly newsletter covering Utah athletics. Subscribe here.

You’re mad at the University of Utah basketball program right now.

Craig Smith showed up here on March 27, and half the roster promptly hit the NCAA Transfer Portal. Smith and his staff hit the portal to fill the holes, and did so, but without getting anyone Joe Average Fan recognizes. “A bunch of role players,” or so my inbox has indicated for the last six months.

They pursued top-100 class of 2022 power forward Zach Keller, who chose Wake Forest. They pursued top-15 national point guard recruit Milos Uzan, who chose Oklahoma. They heavily pursued Farmington star Collin Chandler, who chose BYU after it appeared for weeks he would wind up at Utah.

The Chandler thing drove you over the edge, not necessarily because he opted against Utah, but because he chose BYU. I understand. Former Ute Britton Johnson went on ESPN700 Wednesday afternoon and asserted that if Utah had hired Chris Burgess as an assistant coach, Chandler would have followed. I am in agreement with those who believe not getting Burgess on staff was substantial, but revisiting that on Wednesday, this long after the fact, felt unnecessary.

I rambled through all that as a precursor to my point: Craig Smith deserves the benefit of the doubt. He deserves patience, he deserves time to build this thing because frankly, he walked into a program that had stagnated under Larry Krystkowiak. To that end, and I’ve been through this before, if you’re going to blame Smith because he couldn’t hang on to Timmy Allen, Alfonso Plummer, Mikael Jantunen, etc., you need to really take a step back and examine how these things generally work.

Smith is 154-79 in seven seasons as a Division I head coach. Two of the three postseason appearances in the D1 history of the University of South Dakota belong to Smith. He would have taken Utah State to three NCAA Tournaments in as many seasons had the COVID-19 pandemic not canceled the 2020 Big Dance.

Smith is not a retread, he has earned an opportunity to prove himself at this level of the sport. Judging him now, today, because Utah, which has had minimal recruiting momentum in recent years, whiffed on three high school recruits, makes no sense. Judging him now, today, with a roster that is not entirely his, with a schedule that was not totally under his control, makes even less sense.

It’s Nov. 12. One game has been played. There will be other recruits. Take a breath.

Or don’t. I’m just over here trying to help.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

Utah clinches a spot in the Pac-12 championship game with a win at Arizona on Saturday, plus a Washington win over Arizona State in Seattle. Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake is suspended this week, and offensive coordinator John Donovan was fired after an uninspiring loss to Oregon. Washington could do Utah a favor on Saturday, but that feels like a tough ask.

• The Barton family is Utah athletics royalty.

• Going by points per game and total points, Utah has the No. 1 offense in the Pac-12, just like we all drew it up in August. No, really. That is a modern marvel.

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