International trip should help Runnin' Utes come together
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — After a 6-25 season, the Utah Utes are leaving town. Although they're still deciding between Brazil or a trip to France and Italy, the Utes are going on an international tour in August.
"The timing couldn't be better for us to get out, do some bonding and start moving forward," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
NCAA rules allow teams to go on such trips every four years. The benefits include 10 allotted practices, 10 days on the road and 6-7 games. Eligible players include anyone enrolled in first semester of summer school.
Utah's roster is expected to include November signees Dallin Bachynski, returning LDS Church missionary Jeremy Olsen, as well as high school seniors Josh Herlihy, Jordan Loveridge and Justin Seymour.
"I think that's going to be valuable just for us to get a better sense for strengths and weaknesses and be able to work on some stuff," Krystkowiak said. "Otherwise you're pretty much handcuffed and waiting for school to get started in the fall before you can do much."
Krystkowiak noted that additional signees could be added before the trip.
"The bottom line is our roster has got to get better and we've got to get moving in the right direction," he said.
That, however, will require a significant overhaul to a Utah team without any graduating seniors. NCAA rules limit teams to 13 scholarships.
"It's going to be a little bit of a different roster, obviously," Krystkowiak said. "We've got some young kids coming into the program."
And the Utes, he added, don't have a huge group of veterans coming back who are going to be logging a lot of minutes.
There will be plenty of decisions to be made when Krystkowiak holds season-ending meetings with individual players once they return from spring break.
"It's not just what we think," Krystkowiak said. "But it has a lot to do with the kid's perception of where he fits in and what the future might hold."
Krystkowiak is taking a blunt and honest approach into the conversations.
"I think that's kind of the best way to go forward and not tell kids what they want to hear or mislead them in anyway," he said. "We're at a situation where there may very well be some roster turnover with us going forward. But then again, that's mostly going to depend on sitting in here and meeting with some of our guys when they get back from spring break."
Although it obviously remains to be seen what will actually transpire, the Utes will have two transfers on their active roster — guard Glen Dean (Eastern Washington) and forward Aaron Dotson (LSU). They're both eligible next season after sitting out in 2011-12.
Krystkowiak is confident the increased competition for playing time will enhance the team's chances for success.
It'll do nothing, he added, but making everyone better.
"Kids shouldn't be afraid of competition," Krystkowiak continued. "If you've got the right kids on your team, they almost relish it, savor it and want to be a part of it."
Krystkowiak considers it a "survival of the fittest" and believes the "cream just kind of rises to the top." The foreign trip promises to be extremely beneficial in evaluating such things — same goes for spring and summer workouts, including expanded skill sessions.
It's all part of an overall process that Krystkowiak compares to lifting weights and breaking down muscles. If you stop, it hurts. If you don't, the soreness eventually goes away.
"It's almost necessary," he said after explaining that not quitting and continually coming back for more will allow the Utes to better weather some tests and adversity down the road — especially in the Pac-12.
"Everybody's going to be trying to get better," Krystkowiak said. "So we can't just think if we can better, all of a sudden we're going to be competitive in the league because we're all in the same boat."
Utah's initial journey through the league featured wide disparities. Three wins and solid showings in a handful of losses were countered by lopsided setbacks that bookended the conference season. The Utes lost their league opener at Colorado 73-33 and the regular-season finale at Oregon 94-48.
The latter made history as the biggest deficit in team history.
Krystkowiak said "it is what it is" and doesn't look at it as a significant step back. He noted that the Utes bounced back the next week and gave eventual champion Colorado a battle in the Pac-12 Tournament before falling 53-41.
"At the end of the day, I don't mind bottoming out. I don't mind being responsible and having a little record book," Krystkowiak said. "I want to remember that we've got the worst loss in the history of Utah basketball and that we did this and we won six games. It's important that we remember all the stuff that we went through as a reminder of where we want to be.
"That's not to say that we're going to win 20 next year and it was just a little blip on the screen," he explained. "But it's all part of the process. So I'm hoping we're sitting here in five years and we can be talking about the improvement that we've made and, yeah, remember back then."
As for now, Krystkowiak insists he's not discouraged. He's excited to move on to the next stage of the building process. No need to dwell too much on the past.
"We can't change it," Krystkowiak said. "We've just got to try to learn from it."
Last year, The Sporting News examined the impact of international tours. The report noted several success stories.
After losing five first-round picks in 2010, Kentucky regrouped by heading to Canada that summer and went on to reach the Final Four the following season.
Michigan used a trip to Belgium to bounce back from a losing season in 2009-10 to win a game in the NCAA Tournament the next year.
And a journey to the Caribbean paid dividends for Memphis. The Tigers followed it up by winning Conference USA's automatic bid a year after failing to reach the NCAA tourney.
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