Utah Utes basketball: Coach Larry Krystkowiak will rely on the Returnin' Utes during transition
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — David Foster, Chris Hines, Jason Washburn and Josh Watkins made quite an initial impression on new University of Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak.
They stood out, Krystkowiak noted, in the first team meeting he held after being hired to replace Jim Boylen.
"You could kind of look around the room and you saw a look in those four guys, in particular," Krystkowiak said. "I just remember they were engaged and ready to go."
And stay, for that matter — the lone holdovers from last season.
Krystkowiak considers them the "cornerstones of what we're trying to build and get rolling here" as the Utes enter their inaugural Pac-12 campaign.
Foster, a 7-foot-3 center, and Watkins, a 5-foot-11 point guard, are returning starters and the only seniors in the program. Hines, a 6-foot guard, and Washburn, a 6-foot-10 pivot man, are juniors who made valuable contributions off the bench and were part-time starters in 2010-11.
The four players combined for a significant percentage of Utah's statistical output last season — teaming for 82.5 percent of the blocked shots, 52 percent of the assists, 43.3 percent of the steals, 42 percent of the points and 36.3 percent of the rebounds.
It's a solid foundation to build upon after a massive revamping of the roster.
"Some of those players broke up with us and some of those players we broke up with them," Krystkowiak said. "In any relationship, it's just about moving on and hopefully finding something that's a better fit."
While noting there's a number of different stories involving player departures, Krystkowiak is fine with out things have turned out. There's something to be said about starting fresh and knowing who is in your corner, especially for a self-described "big, fox-hole guy."
Krystkowiak acknowledges he didn't expect the program to lose that many guys when he took over. However, on the flip side, it allowed the new coaching staff to find some players they really like to take on the challenges ahead.
Regardless of the roster, Krystkowiak said the slate has pretty much been wiped clean and everyone is starting over.
That includes Foster, Hines, Washburn and Watkins.
"Even though they are returning, it's still quite a bit new to them," Krystkowiak said. "So it's kind of a new era and we're ready to get going."
Although the team has had limited workouts since Krystkowiak's arrival last spring, practice begins in earnest later this week as the meshing of the four returnees and nine newcomers continue.
"We've got guys who want to work and I think we've got guys that want to buy in and just play ball," Washburn said. "I think that's what it's going to take to compete in the Pac-12. It's a tough conference. We're going to have to play our hearts out and we're going to have to compete to be up there."
Leading the charge, he continued, will be "The Four Horsemen." Washburn said that's what Krystkowiak called them when it became apparent who would be coming back.
"We're trying to be leaders," Washburn said. "But we're trying not to overstep our bounds too much."
It's a partnership, after all.
"Our success is going to have to come collectively," Krystkowiak said. "Obviously you've got certain players that may be counted on to do a little bit more, but we just can't get it done if we don't think about all being on the same page and trying to do it as a team."
The tradition surrounding the program, he continued, is bigger than any one individual.
It's an approach the players, especially the returnees, are working hard to embrace.
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