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Utah basketball: Transcript of Larry Krystkowiak's season wrap-up interview

Published April 12, 2017 5:22 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Earlier this week, The Tribune sat down with Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak and talked about the most recent 20-12 season that saw Utah finish fourth in the Pac-12, but fall short of a third-straight NCAA Tournament berth. A summary of his comments will appear in Thursday's newspaper, but he covered many more topics than what could fit into print in the session which lasted more than half an hour.



What follows is a lightly edited transcript from the season-ending interview with Krystkowiak about how the season went, how players are developing and what he sees for the future:

Overview of the season

I've got 90-some percent of my energy focused on this next season. It's an average season in my mind. There were some favorable, positive things. Some down times. I would say it was probably a little bit like a roller coaster. I wasn't pleased, because I like to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year — that's always a goal. NIT is an interesting deal. It's hard. I watched that game, and we could've won that game. Cal game was the same kind of deal, going down the wire. For me, it's kind of in the rearview mirror.

Strengths and weaknesses

Turnovers were kind of an Achilles heel. To be one of four teams in the country that shot it over 50 percent, and I don't think we really shot it that well, but it was kind of an interesting deal. We were efficient if we didn't turn it over, but we had too many turnovers. Defensively, we were solid. Again, it's one of those deals where you analyze yourself very close. I didn't feel we were very good defensively, but when you analyze conference numbers and percentages and different things, it could've been a heck of a lot worse. I think we had four games where the other player had a career-high or season-high. We didn't really have a stopper mentality.

Problems with program culture

We got a lot of work to do, I think, on our culture, back to some of the important stuff we've talked about since Day 1. I think some things, truth be known, slipped away a little bit. I spent a heck of a lot of time with all the new faces trying to figure out how to score and how to stop people. We probably didn't invest the kind of time that we had in previous years when it came to our culture and non-negotiable things within our program. The couple weeks I took when the season was over, I had some reflection and kind of stuck myself in a closet and thought, "What can I do differently?" In my mind, the culture had been built here. I mistakenly thought that was going to keep perpetuating itself. We really didn't have some of those locker room discussions and culture discussions that I probably should've had with our team. Some things got away from us.

When the problems came up

I don't think there were a lot of mistakes made early on. We had some guys who were making mistakes that were off the court deals. But it wasn't this huge pattern. I think it kind of came clear toward the end of the season. I'm fine with young men making mistakes. I've never had a problem with that. Part of my job description is to make sure that we teach kids things that they don't know and the importance of some of these things in our program. But I think the old saying: 'Fool me once, your fault. Fool me about the 12th time, that's going to be my fault.' In that regard, when some of those improvements weren't made, that's when I realized we needed to take a closer look.

How culture is built

One of the things I learned from a local guy in town is that culture is going to be created. It's either going to create itself by design, or it's going to create itself by default. For the first four or five years of this program, we were designing it, and we were setting some standards and things were really clear. I think what happened as I look back on it is I think the coaching staff and myself, we did some things culture-building-wise, but we didn't invest the kind of time in some of the discussions, the way our program is going to be built and the core of everything as much as we did trying to focus on getting a number of new guys proficient at the basketball side of it. There's only so much time of day. It was a good learning experience for me. To win 20 games and finish fourth in our conference, that's satisfying, but also, it was a long hard year. I think it goes back to some of the things we believe in. We need to get back to talking about some of those things.

Devon Daniels and JoJo Zamora transferring

I really don't want to get into it. From my statement I made, I was hoping people could see what happened. I'll just say there's a lot of different programs, a lot of different styles. I made the determination, based on behavior and consistency and the way things weren't being accomplished and done that there's probably going to be programs that make better sense for these guys. You gotta remember things, gotta be accountable for things and there's certain standards for how you treat people. It was a decision that I made.

Figuring out the backcourt for next year

I love the guys that we have. There's been a great spirit in our practices this spring. I'm pleased with where they are. But having said that, we're beating the recruiting path and are involved with some really solid kids and we need to add to the mix that we already have. It's a combination of both of those. Sedrick [Barefield] can be a combo guard. He can really score the ball. It's not just putting the weight of the world on him. I think in our program here, the backcourt in our system doesn't need to have just one point guard. We can take it to where the small forward can be the playmaker and use pick and roll and do some different things. I think Sedrick is going to make great improvement. He already has. It's a lot of defensive-minded stuff within our program, and he's made improvements. Decision-making and making reads.

Changes in the offense

We're taking responsibility and there's going to be some simplification of our offense. That starts with me. That's one of those things that I looked at. I enjoy the offensive side of the ball, and sometimes you get a little tricky. And I'd rather do 8 or 10 things really well and have clarity with how we're going to do those things rather than trying to do 16 things and being trickier. I'll take the hit on some of those turnovers. It's the same concept as when the season is over, I ask guys, 'What are you going to improve?' You should always start looking from within. I've made it more clear to our team that it's going to be more of a simplified offense. You gotta take some of the heat off, and maybe there's going to be more clarity in our offense so we don't turn the ball over as much. So a guy like Parker [Van Dyke] was our best guy when it came to assist-to-turnover ratio — our steady Eddie when it came to making decisions. I think Parker made some good progress, and he has some things he's still working on.

Setting a more rigid offense

It'll be here's option A, here's option B, here's option C. If the defense takes it away, we don't need to do anything crazy, but let's move the ball here, and we'll do it again, maybe. … Sometimes there was way too much training going on and confusion, I think, this year with the number of new guys and some of the things we had going on. It made it a lot harder than it needed to be. So that's gonna start with me. We'll keep the guys within the boundaries, and we're going to be a lot more efficient, and I think it's going to lead to more wins.

Defensive issues against dribble penetration

Everybody has to be better at the point of attack. Dribble penetration killed us, whether it was Lorenzo or Parker or Sedrick or whoever, we weren't as consistent as we needed to be in keeping the ball in front of us. In the last game of the season, it was [Chandler] Hutchinson who had 34 against us. He made some terrific shots. As we watched the game, you can blame our defense. But he had about five shots where you could use the saying that we had good defense, but that was just better offense. I could handle that. But a lot of times this season, it was not being able to contain the basketball. I'm not saying for Parker to be a stopper or Sedrick to be a stopper, but when your time comes to guard the ball, you have to be a hell of a lot better at guarding it than we were. We're asking guys to be better leaders, and we're asking guys to be better defenders. If you don't have that stopper, then you've got to do it collectively.

More defensive miscues

Two of the things that I think kicked our butt were attention to detail when we had a gameplan. We had a number of mistakes that it was like, 'Wait a minute guys, this isn't what we talked about.' Accountability in our program is high. If you're not ready to deal with those details, then we're going to be a problem. That's one of the things that needs to improve so we're all on the same page. The second thing was, for whatever reason, sometimes we gamble and get beat at the point of attack. Sometimes our footwork wasn't right, and we'd let a guy drive in a certain direction that we weren't supposed to let him drive. Those were two of the biggest deficiencies for us defensively. I can tolerate some of that. Some of that comes with youth. But that's gotta be one of the areas that's improved on next season.

Lacking a shot-blocker

Every team is gonna be different. If you have a couple shot-blockers like they have at Oregon, you can speed teams up. So that would be fine. If you don't have shot-blocking, you can't beat off the dribble. We're going to recruit and find shot-blockers. I think Chris Seeley could be a shot-blocker for us. He's healthy, and he's got some energy. But at the end of the day, it's good to have a shot-blocker, but it needs to start up front at the point of attack. A shot-blocker is one part of a defensive scheme that can help you. If you don't have it, there's still ways to survive.

Kyle Kuzma and NBA Draft decision

It's like anything in life. You control what you can control. We've got a lot of recruiting that we're in the middle of. We've got to be ready to move if something takes place. … You get as much information as you can. It's not theoretical, but it's there, it's what the teams are saying. You present that to Kyle, he goes through some of these workouts and you gain a sense for where you stand in the whole thing. If it makes sense for him to go out and be a part of the draft, and I've told him this, there's not going to be a guy who is more supportive of him to go. Until I get some of that information, I can't tell what teams are thinking. I know without a doubt it's the deepest draft I've been around. They're talking about it being deeper than any draft within the last 10 years and apparently an influx of international kids that they haven't seen in years as well. When you do the math, it doesn't bode well. But again, it's about going out. The big buzzword for those kids is "test the waters" and figuring out where they stand.

Kuzma's leadership

I think early in the season, when it all started, there were a lot of expectations being a guy who came back and was a starter on a team with a lot of new guys. I was disappointed with some of the things that took place at the end of the year, I think it was at a postseason thing, somebody asked me if I missed Brandon [Taylor] and his leadership, and I said yeah. Who doesn't miss Brandon? And that wasn't a statement that I wasn't pleased with what Kyle did. All of a sudden, I'm listening to the radio, and it goes from me expressing how we have a lot of guys who are a little deer-in-the-headlights and missing Brandon, to asking Kyle, "Well, Coach wasn't happy with your leadership." That's not how it works. I've told Kyle, "Here's the reality: I'm not sure General Patton was going to come in and be a great leader for the team we had last year." You've got to have followers. To be a leader, you have to have some willing guys to buy into what we're doing, and that took a long time. … Again, I take a hit with it, because maybe I didn't spend as much time with some of those culture ideas that could've helped a guy like Kyle be a better leader. It was a hard year for a lot of us. I've talked to Kyle about that. Kyle can be a better leader. I'm not saying he's a perfect leader. It's a common question: Who are your leaders? Well No. 1, you should be able to look out on court and tell who our leaders are. I think Kyle grew tremendously from his sophomore to his junior year. I think there's still another 33 percent left in the tank for him to become a better leader. Do I think I can make Kyle a better leader by doing my job better? Yeah. And by bringing some people in who are a little more culturally minded and have the leadership to know that we're going to be a better team by handling some of the stuff off the court that don't involve basketball. It's a process.

Dealing with player mistakes

Look at Sedrick, look at Parker. Wherever you want to start. Jayce. Those kids are still making mistakes. But the majority of the mistakes are on the basketball court. I can handle that. It's not perfect. But with the two kids that are gone [Daniels and Zamora], there's going to a better place for them. I'm not trying to throw them under the bus. They're not bad kids. But the only thing I can do is have what I talk about as "non-negotiables." You can make a mistake. You can make it twice, you can make it three times, as long as I'm seeing improvement. That's where I struggled with those guys. We're still going to make mistakes with the team we have and the kids we're going to bring in. But it's a little different feeling that people are invested and interested in growing up and moving along. You can't keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Looking for extra years for current players

[With David Collette] I think we're more in a holding pattern to see how this year goes. It's not something that has to be done right now. Factor in the fact that he's older. I sat down and talked to Dave specifically with what he needs to do next year. I did that with everybody: "This is what we need to change and this is what we need to focus on. You need to get stronger and tougher. There needs to be more time in the gym." He's moved really close to campus. He used to be quite a ways away from campus. I'm not talking to Sedrick about his year. We're all about next year and what we need to do for next year. If Dave wants to pursue a waiver, the time to do that isn't right now in my mind. We're more short-term. I think everything is favorable with Gabe, but because that is next year. None of the paperwork yet has been pursued with Dave's situation.

Returning in the frontcourt

When you look at Dave and Jayce coming back, Jayce is on fire. He's a foxhole guy. He's taking care of business. I think he can be a heck of a player. Freshman year is not easy. But he's got a pretty clear picture of what it is he needs to do. Ty [Rawson] coming back. There's no reason in the world that I don't have faith that Kuz won't be back and in the mix. You've got Chris Seeley who's healthy, and Donnie [Tillman] coming in. I don't want to leave Jakub [Jokl] and Marc [Reninger] out there in that mix. It's pretty obvious that we need to fill some holes in the backcourt, but I like what the front court guys are doing, no question.

Development of Seeley and Jokl

[Seeley] has still got to work in the weight room, but from a health perspective, he had a lot of issues with his health when he got here. I think between our medical staff and our training staff, I've always said I'll put those guys up against anybody. He's got it fixed. He's athletic, he's running around, he's learning the game. Jakub has come a long way. The kid has gained 20 pounds since he got here. It hasn't been easy culturally. His English has gotten much better. He's relaxed in our system. You think about everything that's thrown at him, he's got issues no different than any freshman, except you add when people say something to you, you're trying to figure out what they're saying. A practice that we had last week that I put the guys through, I really thought Jakub played great. It doesn't always happen overnight, especially with big guys. Sometimes it takes a while to get there. But he's a skilled kid, and the quicker he can be at ease mentally and communication-wise, which I think he's starting to be, I think you're gonna see some steps as a big guy to make some improvements.

Recruiting changes to lessen transfers

It's not an exact science. I know we've had some guys that depart. If you look at those numbers, I would say if you have nine guys — three to four of those are injuries, two of them are guys that wanted to leave that felt like there were better opportunities in better places, and probably three of those I dismissed from our team. Obviously the injuries are hard to determine, between Tim Coleman and Kenneth Ogbe and Brandon Miller. … Chris Reyes as a graduate transfer. When that time came, that was a win-win for both of us. There was conditioning problems with Chris at this elevation, which isn't unusual. Some guys have a hell of a time at this altitude. He got to a sea-level school at Pepperdine and finished off his senior year. Some of it is definitely going to be on us to find out more about guys and try to predict the guys who are gonna be [bought] in. I can tell you the guys we are recruiting are [bought] in. Some of it is timing when you're trying to find some guys late, too. A couple guys who left our program a year before at the end, you don't have as much time to do evaluation because you're trying to find guys. Trust me — I and my staff are going to do everything we can to try to clean things up. But you also know with the state of affairs and the way things are right now, if things aren't perfect, the culture of college basketball is such that people are going to be looking for another place.

kgoon@sltrib.com
Twitter: @kylegoon

 

 

 

 

 

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