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In search of building a strong foundation in the locker room next year, the Runnin' Utes are headed overseas.
Starting on Aug. 5, Utah basketball will embark on a 10-day trip to Europe for a handful of exhibition games. While the opponents are yet to be announced, the team will spend six days in Barcelona and four days in Paris, a stretch that coach Larry Krystkowiak hopes will promote a little team building.
"It'll be really good for our guys and building culture," he told The Salt Lake Tribune this week. "It will be fun."
It marks the Utes' first trip abroad since 2012, when they traveled to Brazil. Krystkowiak also led a Pac-12 all-star team through China in 2014 and spent a year playing in France as a professional.
While Utah has yet to finalize the opponents, Krystkowiak said he expected the Utes would play some combination of local all-star teams.
Culture building is a top bullet point for the Utes going into the season after slumping late in a 2016-17 campaign that ended in the first round of the NIT. Utah saw two transfers, Devon Daniels and JoJo Zamora, leave the program after the season. The Utes hope that going to Europe will help build chemistry and a sense of common purpose that last year's squad lacked at times.
Krystkowiak said he believes culture is at the forefront of his latest signing class, which includes forward Donnie Tillman, transfer guard Justin Bibbins and guard Christian PoPoola Jr.
"I really think when we talk about those three, they're in the upper percentile of high-character kids," he said. "We're really looking forward to those guys joining our program."
The Utes are also holding summer camps throughout June with registration still open. The team camp runs June 8-10; the camp for children K-8 runs from June 12 to 15 and the elite camp for high schoolers is on June 19.
In the wake of Kyle Kuzma's decision to stay in the NBA draft, Krystkowiak admitted that he was a little surprised by the timing, but now fully backs Kuzma's decision.
He originally thought he might hear word from Kuzma on the draft after the NBA draft combine in early May, but Kuzma hired an agent beforehand. After Krystkowiak got a chance to visit with Kuzma, he understood that his star forward, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, felt he had to commit to one path to give himself his best chance.
"With graduation coming up, he didn't want to have to deal with anyone here trying to talk him into coming back, and he really felt split between two worlds," Krystkowiak said. "The important thing is that he did well in Chicago, and he's really got a chance to go in the draft."
If Kuzma is selected on June 22, the Utes will have produced three NBA draft picks in as many years. While Krystkowiak would understandably prefer to have his all-Pac-12 player return to the fold for his senior year, that's a track record on which Utah can recruit. Utah planned to move Kuzma to a wing position had he returned; that now likely falls to a combination of Gabe Bealer, Tillman and perhaps some of Utah's guards.
"We don't need a true 3-man at that position in our system, as long as the guy can defend," Krystkowiak said. "We've got a few different people we can use to fill those gaps."
Utah athletics has secured funding and is accepting bids for a new $4 million video board in the middle of Huntsman Center that Krystkowiak said should "spruce the place up." The Utes are also planning to build video boards on the sides of the arena for fans lower down in the bowl, he said.
While many funds have gone to building internal infrastructure in recent years, such as the Huntsman practice facility, Krystkowiak said he sees many future plans for the Huntsman Center, including hopes to improve outdoor lighting and an eventual overhaul of the concourse, as changing the fan experience.
"It shows a commitment from [athletics director Chris] Hill and [donor Jon] Huntsman to make that building an awesome arena," he said. "It's going to be something that fans on all different sides can enjoy. We're really fortunate to have that kind of support."
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