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Mike Sorensen: Staying may be best for University of Utah players

Published: Sunday, April 10 2011 9:55 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a time of upheaval over the past month for the Utah basketball program.

Jim Boylen was let go in mid-March and Larry Krystkowiak was hired a week ago to take over the reins of the Ute program. Before the week was over, the Utes' two most promising players for next year, had asked for and received their release from the program to check out their options elsewhere. Some other lesser players are leaving, either on their own accord or because the new coach pushed them along.

It's not surprising that players are leaving, considering an average of nearly four players per year have left the U. program over the past 20 years. Even when the Utes were winning 25-plus games every year under Rick Majerus, players came and went like a revolving door. But when there's a coaching change, you have to expect turnover.

However, it is kind of surprising that Will Clyburn and J.J. O'Brien might be looking to leave the Ute program, especially when they say they have enjoyed their experience so far in Utah. Clyburn, the Utes' leading scorer and rebounder, has just one year of eligibility left, meaning he'll have to sit out a year if he goes to another Division I school.

Say he goes to play at a Big 12 or Missouri Valley Conference school, closer to home. How likely is it he will emerge as the top scorer and rebounder with just one year left, as he likely would if he stayed at Utah?

O'Brien would be an even bigger loss for Utah since he has three years of eligibility remaining and showed the kind of potential as a freshman that he could be a star in the next three years. He said last week he "loved" Utah and was merely exploring his options, so he may be back.

Coming from the L.A. area, it would make most sense for O'Brien to consider a Pac-12 school, but he can't go to a Pac-12 school without losing a year of eligibility now that Utah is in the league.

Perhaps if he does leave, the most logical move for O'Brien would be San Diego State, which is losing a bunch of players and isn't far down the freeway from where he grew up. Or perhaps, if he really likes living in Utah, he could transfer down to BYU and not lose any eligibility now that the Utes and Cougars aren't in the same conference.

Clyburn and O'Brien have to do what makes them happy, but the best thing for their future basketball careers might be to stay right where they are.

SMART DECISIONS: Give new coach Krystowiak credit for making some smart decisions and listening to advice in his hiring of assistant basketball coaches.

His first hire was a guy who some thought should get the Utah job in the first place, Westminster coach Tommy Connor.

Connor is well-respected as top coach with 12 straight winning seasons, including 10 with 20 or more wins. He knows the Intermountain area, he knows Utah basketball, having played there for four years and coached for seven more. Krystkowiak had never even met Connor before last week, but was smart enough to grab him for his staff.

It also makes sense for Connor if he has any aspirations to take over the Utah head job some day, to get more experience in the program.

Over the weekend, Krysthowiak added DeMarlo Slocum, known as a top recruiter at Colorado State and Idaho as well an AAU coach in Las Vegas for five years

ANOTHER SMART DECISION: Congrats to BYU assistant for nabbing the head coaching job at UNLV and for UNLV for hiring Rice. It seemed like a no-brainer, considering other top candidates were Reggie Theus, Ernie Kent and 70-year-old Larry Brown.

Now Dave Rose has big shoes to fill on his staff. Maybe he could bring back Steve Cleveland, who was recently let go at Fresno State.

MAGNIFICENT MASTERS: Changing subjects, how about the Masters' final round Sunday afternoon?

Except for the painful meltdown of third-round leader Rory McIlroy, the tournament was a riveting four hours of entertainment.

Tiger Woods made a charge and several times late in the final round, there were as many as five players tied for the lead and nine players had a shot at the title with less than five holes left.

It marks the second time in three majors that a South African with a strange 10-letter last name came out on top as Charl Schwartzel joins Louis Oosthizen, the winner last year at St. Andrews as a major winner.

Another interesting fact — the top nine finishers in the Masters represented six of the seven continents in the world. The only continent not represented was Antarctica, where there are, uh, exactly zero golf courses.

Email: sor@desnews.com

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