I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It’s been way worth it. It’s been a lot better for me and it’s been really fun. —David Collette, on transferring to Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — This is the place as far as David Collette is concerned.
After beginning his collegiate career at Utah State, the former Murray High School star is quite happy that he’s now playing for the University of Utah.
The feeling is no doubt mutual. Entering this week’s Pac-12 home games against USC and UCLA, Collette leads the Utes in scoring with 15.4 points per game.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It’s been way worth it,” Collette said of his journey from blue to red. “It’s been a lot better for me and it’s been really fun.”
In seven games with Utah, the 6-foot-10, 227-pound forward has made an instant impact. He’s shooting 66.2 percent from the field — not bad for a guy who was sidelined for more than one year because of NCAA transfer rules.
“A lot of that is experience. I think he’s got two things going for him. He’s strong as an ox and he’s got a lot of experience playing at a high level,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who noted Collette’s background in the Mountain West Conference at Utah State. He earned all-conference recognition in 2014-15, starting in all 31 games for the Aggies with averages of 12.8 points, 5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
Krystkowiak added that Collette understands the game and plays at the right pace. He also praised his ability to deal with double teams and find teammates.
“We want to put teams in a bad way and not be one-dimensional where you’re focused on the perimeter,” Krystkowiak said. “Having Dave here, I think he saw that. (He) made his choice to come here, and right now we’re saddling him up and getting a little work out of him.”
Collette and fellow transfer Sedrick Barefield (SMU) weren’t able to play in games for the Utes until grades for fall semester were posted. They made their debuts in a 92-60 win over Prairie View A&M on Dec. 17 after missing the first eight games of the season.
Now they’re mainstays.
Besides being a starter, Collette has also been named a team captain — joining Lorenzo Bonam and Kyle Kuzma.
“He brings just a presence to our team — period,” Bonam said.
Freshman guard Devon Daniels noted that Collette brings a lot of experience and confidence to the mix.
“We know that we can throw the ball into the post and something good is going to happen,” Daniels said.
Krystkowiak credits Collette for being influential with the younger guys that they’re trying to bring up to speed. It’s one of the reasons Krystkowiak made him a captain.
“He’s a mature kid. He’s what I would consider an extension of our coaching staff,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s in it for the right reasons. He’s one of the veteran guys.”
At 23, Collette is a bit older than his teammates. He served an LDS Church mission to Charlotte, North Carolina, and is married.
“He’s got a wife. He’s old,” Daniels said with a smile. “So we call him ‘Gramps’ sometimes.”
It’s a title, though, that Daniels admits doesn’t fit Collette on the court
“Not at all,” he said. “Legs like a 17-year-old. So it’s good.”
That’s how Collette sees it as well.
“Don’t get fooled by the ‘Gramps,’ I’m still young. I’m not that old,” he said. “I’m still young. I’m fresh, able to stay in shape — just work like I usually do.”
Business, however, has been anything but usual for Collette since he decided to leave Utah State and find another place to play. He opted to do so after leading the Aggies with 36 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks after exhibition games against Oklahoma Panhandle State and Cal State Monterey Bay just prior to the start of the 2015-16 season.
Longtime Utah State coach Stew Morrill had retired in March and was replaced by longtime assistant Tim Duryea.
“I wasn’t really comfortable with the situation in the first place. I had thought about leaving after the year when Coach Morrill announced his retirement,” Collette said. “I thought about leaving and I decided to stay and see what it was like. For me, it was kind of like a test run, you know, to see what it was going like and as things got going it wasn’t good — not a good situation for me, so I decided to leave.”
The timing led to bitterness on Utah State’s side. The school refused to release Collette from his scholarship. In a press release announcing the departure, Duryea said he was “shocked” and included “poaching” from other schools among factors in play.
Collette caught a lot of grief for his decision to depart. Even so, he does have some cherished memories of his time in Logan. It's where he met his wife, McElle.
“I loved Utah State. I loved my experience there. I obviously grew a ton and learned a lot there,” Collette said. “But, you know what, nobody knows the situation except for me and my family and the decision I made was to help me out.”
Ramifications were expected.
“I knew everything coming in. I knew I was going to get a lot of crap,” Collette said. “But in the end for me and my family it was the best decision.”
Collette explained that the whole reason he went to Utah State was because of Morrill. He committed to the coach early and thus was pretty much off the market when Krystkowiak was hired to coach the Utes in 2010.
“I loved him back when I watched him play for Pump-and-Run,” said Krystkowiak, who successfully recruited Jordan Loveridge off that AAU team.
Knowing that Krystkowiak recruited him a little out of high school proved to be pivotal years later. In exploring his options, Collette was hopeful that he might be able to make his dream come true as a Utah fan and play for the Utes.
“There wasn’t any phone calls from him or anything like that. He made the decision that he wasn’t going back to Utah State. It wasn’t ‘I’m coming to Utah for sure,’” Krystkowiak said. “We were contacted by someone in his circle that said ‘Hey would you guys have a scholarship if he was interested in coming to Utah?’ And I said ‘I think we could probably, you know, figure one out.’”
Krystkowiak said that a number of weeks went by and there was no contact whatsoever.
“The first time I ever talked or saw him or anybody in his family was the first day our classes started after Christmas time. Because by rule, you can’t talk until he’s enrolled,” Krystkowiak said. “So he came and paid his own way, got in class and walked into my office and I said ‘Hey buddy, it’s been a long time’ and then here we go.”
About a month later, Collette asked if the Utes were going to have a scholarship for him. Krystkowiak responded that they had kind of made that assumption. He stopped having to pay his way this past fall.
“I can tell you nobody did anything wrong because if we did it would have been a lot easier for me,” Collette said. “That was a hard process trying to get here and do it all on my own.”
Despite the difficulties, Collette has no regrets.
“Coach K has been great. I knew he was good and he’s better than I could have imagined coming here,” Collette said. “He’s a great coach. He’s got great poise, is calm and just knows how to coach his players and that’s something that’s really going to help me out.”
Collette added that he made the decision to help his career out. He’s happy and feeling blessed about the move.
So, too, is Krystkowiak.
“I’m glad that it’s worked out the way that it has,” he said. “It’s pretty neat.”
The journey, though, was rough at times.
Krystkowiak firmly denies that they tried to pluck him away from Utah State.
“That was never anything that came up, ever,” Krystkowiak said. “But when he makes a decision that he wants to leave and that he wants to come to Utah, you know, that’s like this recruiting process you talk about. There’s something to knowing a young man wants to be with you and it allows you to maybe jump in and be on a little different level with him when you know that it’s mutual.”
Collette, Krytskowiak continued, is a guy that respects Utah’s program and believes in what they’re trying to do. He wanted to be pushed.
It’s one of many prerequisites that Krystkowiak looks for in a captain. He added that Collette stands for a lot of the right things and is a great representative of the team.
“We love coaching him and he’s captain-worthy and a leader,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s fun to have him be a part of our program.”
At the same time, Collette is also still a work in progress. Krystkowiak would like to see him stop some of the silly fouls he’s getting — reminiscent of Jakob Poeltl early in his Utah career — have him on the floor more and get him in better shape.
Such things can be addressed. If only everything were that easy. The transfer proved controversial to say the least.
“I know what happened, Dave knows what happened. It’s almost like politics, religion. At some point you can’t win. If you have an opinion, there isn’t anything somebody’s going to tell you on the other side to change,” Krystkowiak said. “So within our basketball program, we talk a lot about trying to control what it is we can control and taking care of our own deal.”
Krystkowiak explained that he doesn’t pay much attention to the media and that he’s off social media. He can only imagine what assumptions are made about the situation.
“I can’t control it. What I can control is trying to help Dave’s dreams come true and coaching him and making sure my energy is focused on putting him in the best position to be successful,” Krystkowiak said. “I think he’s been super mature about it. It wasn’t easy for him to do and I’ve never seen him fazed by it. It’s like all business for him. So why wouldn’t his coach want to be all business and just try to finish it up?”
The time is going to fly by, Krystkowiak continued, and there’s no need to worry about what anybody thinks.
“Specifically," Krystkowiak said, "when I know that nothing was done improper with anything.”
And the bottom line of it all . . .
"It's a better fit for me and I'm happier here where I am now," Collette said.