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It's coach's Utes now — whatever's left of 'em

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 18 2012 3:23 p.m. MST

Josh Watkins (15) was dismissed from the Ute basketball team Wednesday, reportedly for a violation of team rules.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Looks like Larry Krystkowiak's spring cleaning is already finished.

Prospects for the University of Utah basketball team took another downward pitch on Wednesday when the coach dismissed top player Josh Watkins for reasons related to team rules. The star guard reportedly has had problems with lateness and even missing practices, including some this week.

That makes nine players (and counting) who have transferred or been dismissed since Jim Boylen was fired last spring. What Krystkowiak has left is the stuff you find at a yard sale. A picture frame here, a tire rim there. A lot of odds and ends, nothing terribly valuable.

Such is life when you inherit a dilapidated basketball program and try to build from there.

"The integrity of our program as a whole cannot be sacrificed for any individual," Krystkowiak announced. "The well-being of our program will always come first. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make."

Curiously, the loss might actually end up being a gain. Coaches tend to say their program isn't complete until they have all their own players aboard. That won't be difficult now. Everyone else has already done a Hoffa and vanished.

Watkins' departure left Utah with just two players from last season: Chris Hines and Jason Washburn. Center David Foster is out with an injury. Watkins, a former Manhattan player of the year, was the best of last year's remnants. He had his moments, though one had to wonder how long he would last. He was already suspended once this season for unspecified reasons.

The Utes are now clinging to an ice floe, somewhere far from the safety of land. They played three good recent conference games, almost beating Washington and Stanford and actually defeating Washington State. But then came the reality check: a 45-point loss to Cal.

They have lost seven games by 20 or more points.

Utah's decline didn't happen overnight. Rick Majerus' recruiting had dimmed by the end of the 2003-04 season when he left. Ray Giacoletti had one good season after talking Andrew Bogut into sticking around a year. Jim Boylen tied for a conference title with Giacoletti's recruits.

Yet through it all players were leaving for one reason or another, either at coach's behest or their own, from Justin Hawkins to Carlon Brown to Will Clyburn to J.J. O'Brien and many others.

Part of the problem is the current tenor of college sports. Athletes tend to jump quicker when things don't go as expected. (Witness Jake Heaps transferring from BYU's football team.) Additionally, Utah has had four coaches in eight seasons.

If you ask a coach, he'll tell you Utah's problem is patience. But isn't that everyone's?

"Everyone in the coaching profession knew that once Majerus left it would be an awful hard job for the next person," said one former college coach. He went on to say that other than Bogut, Utah hasn't had much true talent in recent years.

He added that Giacoletti was fired too quickly and though Boylen was a decent coach, he didn't recruit well.

Still, the former coach called player movement "collateral damage" related to coaching changes, adding that transfers are bound to happen under the circumstances.

"I think Utah's problems are a combination, but impatience more than anything," he said.

It's hard not to be impatient with a program that was once ranked the 11th-most successful in basketball history.

Regardless, don't be surprised if the Utes lose every remaining game. They're missing their leading scorer. At the same time, how many wins would Watkins have affected anyway?

On the bright side, with everybody gone, the wait shouldn't be long before Krystkowiak can say he has his own team in place.

For now he just needs to keep someone around to turn out the lights.

email: rock@desnews.com

Twitter: therockmonster

Facebook: rockmonsterunplugged

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