This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Welcome to the Utah basketball gumbo pot.
There's a little bit of everything in here: two returning starters, two transfers from other Division I schools, three junior college guys, two players out of high school, two returned missionaries, a redshirt freshman, an international prospect, and more.
Five practices in, and less than two weeks from the team's first public exhibition, the challenge for coach Larry Krystkowiak, his staff and his players is to make this dish resemble the Runnin' Utes of the past few years.
With 12 players who didn't take the court for the team last year now occupying spots on the roster, it's going to take time to mold this mix into a team. On Thursday, the Utes spent most of the media portion of practice teaching defensive concepts to the players.
That's a lot of practice right now: teaching. But Krystkowiak said each passing day makes him feel more hopeful.
"The more we practice, there's less mistakes," he said. "I think guys' minds are freeing up a little bit, and understanding what they're trying to do. It's been super competitive and everybody's playing hard. So far I'm pleased where we are."
Coming off two consecutive NCAA-tournament seasons, the Utes have a well-defined blueprint. Krystkowiak said they want to be a team with a lot of assists that takes high-percentage shots. They want to defend hard and limit easy baskets they've worked on transition defense in every practice so far.
But this early and with so many roles up for grabs, Utah's progress toward that identity may be slow going. They're still a week away from separating a more consistent group of stronger players from role players, Krystkowiak said, and he hasn't talked much to the players about what the rotation will be.
Even his returning starters, junior forward Kyle Kuzma and senior guard Lorenzo Bonam, have been challenged in practice by newcomers Tyler Rawson and JoJo Zamora, respectively.
"They're locking horns with those guys, and I think that's good for our team," Krystkowiak said. "There's not going to be people who are placed on a pedestal above anyone else."
One of the trickiest aspects of an overhauled roster is building chemistry. Kuzma acknowledged the players were "a little distant" as they worked out over the summer, many of them learning each other's names for the first time. Freshman center and Czech Republic native Jakub Jokl is learning English still, much less the finer terminology of Utah's schemes.
But Kuzma said Utah's annual SEALs training which this year was extended into a camping trip on a ranch played a major role in getting the Utes, a group of strangers stranded in the wilderness, to start bonding around a bonfire.
"We had no cell phones. There was a lot of cow manure out there. Coyotes," he said. "The only thing we had out there was us. So it was good to talk with everybody."
While the Utes graduated their most experienced class under Krystkowiak, new sources of leadership are emerging. Aside from Kuzma and Bonam, Krystkowiak said he's been impressed by the players with college experience under their belts: Zamora and Rawson from the junior college ranks, and Utah State transfer David Collette (who won't be able to play until December).
Sophomore guard Parker Van Dyke, who returned from his LDS Church mission from Alabama this spring, had a goal to stay in shape when he saw Utah's win total and talent level rising from afar. He played pick-up basketball on his days off, and tried to keep his shot sharp.
Re-entering the program for his second year, he's been almost surprised to be looked up to on a roster full of newcomers. And the East High alum said he's taking all the time he can to teach his new teammates how the Utes play ball.
"I've been around the program my whole life," he said. "So it's an opportunity to let people know how we do things, how we run things, how Salt Lake City, and a little bit of the tradition I grew up watching at the University of Utah."