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Larry Krystkowiak won't be making a trip to the Final Four this year. Save your jokes about the Utes who, like 341 other teams, won't be playing in New Orleans.
"I was going to," the first-year Utes coach said sitting in his office last week, "I just bagged it."
For coaches not coaching, the Final Four is a meat market of buyers and sellers, men looking for coaches and men hoping to once again be coaches. It's pointed out to Krystkowiak in his office that it makes sense for him to skip the circus. After all, he has a job.
"I have a job," Krystkowiak repeated, his words measured into drawn-out tones.
Even with the worst season in Utah history behind him, that job is still trying Krystkowiak's tolerance for failure and his patience for success. While other coaches may be in position to go spend a weekend in April glad-handing and networking, Krystkowiak said he doesn't want to take time away from the litany of issues facing him.
That includes recruiting players to add to his incoming class and managing a roster that already has three more players committed than Krystkowiak is expected to have scholarships. He will ultimately make decisions about the futures of young men that will shape the program's future and Krystkowiak's coaching destiny.
The Utah basketball team that finished its season 6-25 and won three games in its first season in the Pac-12 was a snapshot in rebuilding. The team that takes the floor next year will look vastly different, although the Utes, by the end of the season, had no seniors on their roster.
Krystkowiak signed five players in November for next season, a class he said he would like to increase by two, despite only having two scholarships available of the 13 the NCAA allows. The coach is trying to find the pieces to slide in around returning starters Jason Washburn, who will be a senior center, guard Chris Hines and transfers Aaron Dotson (from LSU) and Glen Dean (from Eastern Washington), who is expected to step into the starting point guard role.
That means Krystkowiak and his players will have hard conversations over the next two weeks, the coach said, and come to decisions about who will return.
"I do think that we're going to have some kids that probably raise their hand," Krystkowiak said, "knock on the door, want to come in and meet and say this isn't exactly what they were thinking, want to get a release and look elsewhere."
It happened last year when eight players left the Utah program once Krystkowiak was hired. Krystkowiak said he didn't yet know which players are likely to return, although he said one player, whom Krystkowiak declined to name, has indicated that he will transfer.
Players who transfer to a Division I program will have to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, while they can play immediately at junior colleges and lower-division schools.
Krystkowiak assembled his roster last April in speedy fashion, assembling borderline Division I players and uncommitted junior collegians. Theoretically, in a year Krystkowiak should have found higher-caliber players for this year's class. It includes West Jordan star Jordan Loveridge and former Southern Utah center Dallin Bachynski, who Krystkowiak says has the potential to be better than his brother Jordan, a starter at Arizona State.
It's promising. But consider these weeks the darkness before the dawn for Krystkowiak.
"At the end of the day sometimes you have to make some decisions for young men that won't otherwise do them on their own," he said.
He added: "One of the main ingredients is making sure that we do right by these kids. And a lot of that involves being honest and up-front. But, having said that, part of my responsibility is our program, too, and making sure we're doing what's right for the program."
He really does want to go to the Final Four. One day.
P In the next two weeks, Larry Krystkowiak expects to learn which of his players want to return next season, and decide which ones will stay.
• The Utes have signed five players for next season, despite having only two scholarships available so far.
• West Jordan star Jordan Loveridge headlines the recruiting class of 2012, which Krystkowiak said he wants to increase by two players.