SALT LAKE CITY — It's a whole new ballgame for the University of Utah basketball program.
Only a handful of the 17 players and five coaches on hand for the start of Ute practice Friday evening were familiar faces as the team is basically starting over under new coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Following the dismissal of coach Jim Boylen last spring, six players with remaining eligibility either chose to leave or were not encouraged to return, including leading scorer Will Clyburn, starter Shawn Glover and promising freshman J.J. O'Brien. That left Krystkowiak with just four returning players and a lot of holes to fill.
Thirteen new players, including three walk-ons, were on the Huntsman Center floor Friday in their black practice jerseys, ready to get going on the first day college teams are allowed to practice.
"We're ready to roll," said Kystkowiak. "We've had a great six or seven weeks of conditioning, work in the community and in the classroom and now we're taking part in what everyone would agree is the funnest part of it all — when we can get on the floor and start putting it together."
Krystkowiak said he has no idea which of the 13 newcomers will see the most playing time, but he is happy with his two seniors, 7-foot-3 center David Foster and 5-11 point guard Josh Watkins.
"I like the bookends we have with our seniors," Krystkowiak said. "Big Dave is in good shape right now and I want Jiggy to have a great year at the point guard. Then you just try to fill in between."
He said the other returning players, Jason Washburn and Chris Hines, could either start or come off the bench and he didn't rule out the possibilities of Foster and Washburn playing together on the front line.
"I'm real excited for this year," said Watkins. "With all the new players, we're working together. The chemistry is different and we really want to win."
Washburn said the team is working harder than ever and he can't wait to get started.
"With the mixture of everyone being brand new and it being a new season, it's killing me — I'm ready to go," he said.
Kystkowiak said he isn't worried about his starting lineup or how his team will fit into the Pac-12 this year. He just wants his team to "play hard, play smart and play together" and to lay the foundation for the Utah program.
Among the new players to watch this year are JC transfers Javon Dawson, Dijon Farr and Cedric Martin, freshman guards Anthony Odunsi and Kareem Storey and George Matthews, a 6-5 freshman forward from Phoenix signed by Boylen, who had a cast on his foot for much of the summer and is still getting into shape.
The Utes have been picked to finish 12th in the Pac-12 by some publications already, but that doesn't bother the players.
"Everybody picks us as the last team, but we think we're one of the top teams in the conference," said Watkins. "I'm not going to sugarcoat anything, but I think we're one of the hardest-working teams in the world, I say the world. I feel we work harder than anybody and it's going to pay off."4 comments on this story
The Utes will have a Red-White scrimmage Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. that is open to the public. Their first exhibition game is Nov. 4 against Adams State and the first official game is Nov. 14 against San Diego Christian College.
The Utes will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas Nov. 24-26 and open Pac-12 play on the road at Colorado on Dec. 31. The Pac-12 tournament is in Los Angeles March 7-10.
"We're trying to get better each week and each month," Krystkowiak said. "We're trying to make those improvements and we'll see where we stack up at the end of the day."