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Kragthorpe: Larry Krystkowiak must stop flow of Ute transfers where it starts — in recruiting

Published April 5, 2017 5:14 pm

Utah men's basketball • Even in era where transfers are on the rise, too many Utes are leaving program
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Larry Krystkowiak is empowered by a contract that runs through the 2022-23 basketball season. That gives the University of Utah coach the ability to reshape his roster and absorb a transition year here and there.

It also gives him a responsibility to the program's fans to put the best possible product on the Huntsman Center court every season. The fact he'll earn a combined $5 million-plus for the 2016-17 and '17-18 seasons without reaching the NCAA Tournament — as current roster projections suggest — should make Krystkowiak accountable for his inadequate recruiting.

That's the best explanation for what is becoming an epidemic of players transferring out of Utah's program. Whether the problem is that some of the players he's signing are not good enough to play in the Pac-12 or the coach's expectations are not being made clear in the recruiting process (or both), having nine players transfer in barely more than a year reveals a systemic issue.

This is a different era in college basketball. Because it happens everywhere, it becomes easy to rationalize the volume of player movement — to a certain point. How many is too many? Nine is too many. The number actually may be lower; I just know that nine is too many.

How do I know this? Because I had to look up the names. Any fewer, and I could have remembered them all, I'm fairly certain.

From the 2015-16 roster: Brandon Miller, Chris Reyes, Isaiah Wright, Makol Mawien, Brekkott Chapman and Kenneth Ogbe.

From the 2016-17 roster: Tim Coleman, Devon Daniels and JoJo Zamora.

Having players such as Jakob Poeltl and possibly Kyle Kuzma leave early for the NBA is a good sign for the program, although it creates a need for some restocking.

And when viewed broadly, some volume of transfers due to a combination of the players' and coaches' dissatisfaction is acceptable. The tradeoff is that programs, including Utah's, benefit from incoming transfers such as David Collette and Sedrick Barefield.

It is part of the game, in this century. Gonzaga is in Monday's NCAA championship game largely due to two transfers from Pac-12 schools, Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews. In the decade since ESPN.com began tracking Division I transfers, the annual number has gone from roughly 200 to 700.

Utah's six Division I schools lost 21 players — some to one another — from their 2015-16 rosters. So clearly, this stuff happens. It just happens too much at Utah lately.

The volume is too high for the trend to be written off as a symptom of the players' sense of entitlement, as someone from my generation ordinarily would do. In announcing the departures of Daniels and Zamora last week, Krystkowiak spoke of "certain responsibilities and expectations that are critical in being a member of our program."

That's reasonable. The problem is that something was missed in the evaluation or persuasion of those players by the coaching staff that brought them to Utah.

Krystkowiak deserved the lengthy, lucrative contract he received after a Sweet 16 appearance in 2015, because of everything he had done to that point in restoring a proud program. But he still needed to earn that $24.7 million over the ensuing eight years, and the same is true of his staff, with less compensation.

I've given the Ute coaches credit, maybe more than I should, for coming close to signing the likes of Arizona's Lauri Markkanen (already headed to the NBA) and Gonzaga's Zach Collins and Killian Tillie in November 2015. Those near-misses suggest they're targeting top-tier talent and eventually will land a player of that stature.

The obvious problem is the secondary tier of Ute recruits is not meeting expectations — to use Krystkowiak's own word. That has to change.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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