View from the Booth: Utah basketball needs talent, but it'll take time
"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time."
This may end up being one of the more unpopular and frustrating columns (and based on past emails I've received from you guys, that's saying something) I've written for the Ute fan base. I'm likely going to tell you some things that you don't want to hear.
Let me begin by stating the obvious, this is going to be an extremely challenging year for the Utah basketball team. Coming off Wednesday night's historic loss to Cal State Fullerton, Utah fans are understandably upset and frustrated by this team, the 1-7 start, and the way the season has unfolded so far.
Fans have every right to feel the way they do right now. Utah basketball and its fan base have a long and proud tradition of winning, so what's happened over the last two seasons leading up to now has been tough to stomach. However, there are no quick fixes for what is ailing Utah basketball right now. This will be college basketball's version of Extreme Home Makeover, minus Ty Pennington. Patience!
Many people blame this year's struggles on the departure of players from last year's team. Some claim that if Utah had a Will Clyburn or a JJ O'Brien things would be different. I'm not going to tell you that those guys wouldn't help, but they would simply mask the greater problem: A real lack of overall talent in the program.
Utah athletic director Dr. Chris Hill made a regime change immediately after the Utes exited the Mountain West Conference tourney last spring, but that change was in the works for a period of time. Hill, a basketball man at heart, could see what was happening and didn't like the direction the program was taking.
The ultimate failing of the last staff was its inability to identify the right talent to compete where Utah needed to be, especially moving forward into the Pac-12 Conference.
So enter Larry Krystkowiak and his staff in April. They were left with very little talent from the last staff and what little was there chose to go elsewhere. As a result, it became scramble mode for the new Utah basketball staff.
Jiggy Watkins, David Foster, Jason Washburn and Chris Hines all chose to stay and made for a solid foundation, but they became the only players with any Division I playing experience. Attempting to fill out a roster in the spring in college basketball is a daunting task, as most kids commit in the November early signing period. Krystkowiak and his assistants went out and signed eight new faces to go with the four returners for this season, but the results so far have been slow in coming. Patience!
Talent, talent and more talent, that's ultimately what's needed right now for Utah basketball. As of right now the Utes have a five-man class committed for next season, highlighted by an ESPN top 150 prospect from West Jordan: Jordan Loveridge. Don't think they are done either.
The staff has been out and hitting the recruiting trail hard the last several weeks. Two assistants were recruiting during last Saturday's game against Fresno State and Tommy Connor was out on Wednesday during the Fullerton game. Larry Krystkowiak knows basketball and knows what he needs right now. It wouldn't surprise me to see several more players signed in the spring signing period. Patience!
For those that know me well there is some real irony in the fact that I'm preaching patience to others, but that is exactly what is needed right now. Talent, hard work and time are what will cure what ails the Utes. I know this isn't exactly what Ute fans what to hear on the eve of the rivalry game, but it's the truth.
I've spent a lot of time around Krystkowiak and his staff; these guys are smart basketball men, good teachers and have a plan. But that plan will take some time. If you watch this team closely, look for progress among the younger players like Kareem Storey and look forward to transfers Aaron Dotson from LSU and Glen Dean from Eastern Washington joining the squad next year.
I look forward to seeing a great crowd for the rivalry game on Saturday at noon at the Huntsman Center.
Bill Riley can be heard as the voice of the University of Utah on gamedays and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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