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Runnin' Utes fans are eager to see signs of progress as the team gets closer to the 2015-16 campaign, its follow-up to a Sweet 16 season last year.
So is Larry Krystkowiak.
The Utah coach's priority in the past month has been recruiting: He estimated he spent five nights in-state total in July. NCAA rules further restrict the contact the coaching staff can have with players: In their eight-week camp, the Utes have only two one-hour on-court practices per week.
But between reports from his strength coach and trainer, plus the limited amount he's been able to see with his own eyes, Krystkowiak is pleased.
"We had a practice that was kind of like an open gym format with us coaching from the sidelines," Krystkowiak said. "I told our guys afterward, 'You don't need us to practice.'"
Entering his fifth season at Utah, Krystkowiak is enjoying the benefits of having seniors to lead. Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker have run their own "captain's practices," leading the team in drills that don't require coach input.
The team is also benefiting from the high performance center which opened in the spring. Aside from new equipment and space that has helped the team train, strength staffer Ernie Rimer is testing lactic acid levels, blood levels and other body signs to measure fitness and performance.
Krystkowiak specifically cited Loveridge as a player who's improved his conditioning, but added that the team as a whole has dropped body fat under strength coach Charles Stephenson (the team calls him "Rock"). Others, like Jakob Poeltl, Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma, have gained weight to be more effective in the post.
"Back in the old days, everyone did the same stuff in the weight room and you just tried to get stronger," Krystkowiak said. "These days, it's more of a tailor-made deal."
Even with four returning starters on paper, the Utes still have flexibility on who will play where this season.
Perhaps the most pressing question is what the starting backcourt will look like with Delon Wright off to the NBA. Taylor is a presumed starter, and Isaiah Wright has shown progress this summer, but junior college transfers Lorenzo Bonam and Gabe Bealer figure in as well with returning swingmen Tucker and Kenneth Ogbe.
With the season a few months away, Krystkowiak said the coaches have yet to make a final call on starters, positions and rotation minutes at the guard spots. He did acknowledge several players look comfortable distributing the ball, including Wright, Bonam and Taylor.
There's also some question about who will back up Poeltl, and for the time being, Krystkowiak said he's more comfortable shifting Chris Reyes to center rather than thrusting freshman Makol Mawien into the fray. Reyes started at power forward last season. Changing positions would appear to open a starting role for either Chapman or Kuzma (Krystkowiak didn't specify either as a starter).
There's also the possibility that Utah plays smaller, especially if Poeltl gets in foul trouble. Krystkowiak said it's possible that Kuzma and Chapman play together in the front court at times, if going small benefits the team.
"I'm not going to try to run a system and get players to fit into that system," he said. "I think it's better to get the best guys you can, work with them a little bit and then play the best style that fits your strengths. Certainly without Dallin [Bachynski] and [Jeremy Olsen], we're a smaller team this year."
The Utes are getting closer to occupying their new $36 million basketball facility, located just a stone's throw away from their current quarters at Huntsman Center.
Krystkowiak predicted the team will officially move in mid-September. Director of player development Phil Cullen has been deeply involved in the project design, and he tweeted photos Monday of the new practice gym floor, seats in the video room and branding on the walls of the building.
Krystkowiak said while the basketball program's new home is a thrilling prospect, the staff has also been busy approving details and making minor tweaks here and there, such as lighting.
"You realize it's not about our team or our coaching staff, but it's the program's home for the next 40 years or so they may not build another one, even," he said. "You don't want to get in there and make a list of 10 things where you say, 'I wish we had done this.' You want it to set Utah up for the future."
Olsen still involved
Krystkowiak clarified Olsen's role with the team, which will be similar to a team manager after the 6-foot-10 forward retired due to a hip injury this spring.
Olsen is working in an accounting program at the U., and he's expected to join the team for games and on trips.
"We'll have him around and we need his support," he said. "He's a senior that was one of those guys when I first took the job that committed to our program, and we're going to make sure we hold up our end of the bargain."