The important thing is that you don’t make any judgements. We have a certain way to do it and some kids, as we know, don’t fit into our system. You always try for a perfect match. It’s not an exact science. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
Editor's note: Fourth in a series examining Division I college basketball transfers.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s roster has undergone a bit of an overhaul in recent years. Nine scholarship players have transferred over the past two seasons.
The departures have come for a variety of reasons including a desire to live closer to a girlfriend, problems adjusting to the altitude in Salt Lake City, an inability to practice because of medical issues, and dismissals.
There were other factors as well, such as meeting demands of the program.
“Each one of these kids that’s not here has a story,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Whatever the case may be, Krystkowiak explained that he understands the negativity associated with personnel changes and how fans may feel it’s unfair. The coach said that he and his staff are dedicated to doing whatever is possible to find the perfect guys.
“But sometimes, it's easier said than done,” Krystkowiak added.
There are a lot of variables in play these days. One thing, he noted, is a copycat deal. Krystkowiak pointed out how many kids wear their mouthpieces on free throws like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors does. Then there’s Kevin Durant’s move from Oklahoma City. Krystkowiak said it all may have started with LeBron James and the “take his talents to South Beach” declaration years earlier. Multiple hats at recruiting signings are also en vogue.
Then, there’s the decisions made after seasons.
“Overall, we’re getting away from ‘nobody told you it was going to be easy,’” Krystkowiak said. “You are going to go back to your dorm and you’re going to want to cry on certain nights. I did when I was in college.”
Krystkowiak added that there was a rite of passage where the older kids toughen you up and you learn to deal with it. Then, all of a sudden, he continued, you start to see success.
Those times have changed. Krystkowiak asked when the last time a four-year college guy got drafted. He said it’s now all about speeding up the process. Instant gratification and feedback from social media platforms are all part of it.
Aaron Thorup, Deseret News
“I don’t know that it is going to be fixed,” Krystkowiak said. “You kind of know what you’re getting into.”
In a staff meeting a few years back, Krystkowiak expressed a solution.
“I said, ‘Look guys, I think we can beat the Arizonas and the UCLAs with our juniors and seniors playing against their freshmen,’” he recalled. “And so I think some of it is going out to find ‘program guys.’”
The Utes have had great success in that regard since joining the Pac-12. Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker were standouts on a pair of NCAA Tournament teams. Potential one-and-dones Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl played two seasons each and became national award winners and first-round NBA draft picks.
Over the past two seasons, three Division I transfers have enrolled at Utah. The trio includes Utah State center David Collette, SMU guard Sedrick Barefield and Long Beach State guard Justin Bibbins.
Transfers, other than from the junior college ranks, are an obvious part of the equation these days.
“The important thing is that you don’t make any judgements,” said Krystkowiak, who added that there are a lot of different ways that coaches coach and programs are run. “We have a certain way to do it and some kids, as we know, don’t fit into our system. You always try for a perfect match. It’s not an exact science.”
Barefield, who joined the Utes last season after transferring from SMU, explained that he just wanted to feel a different culture as far as the basketball program and school.
SMU, as it turned out, didn’t provide the atmosphere that Barefield was expecting. Utah, on the other hand, had a family feel that he sought — on and off the court.
“They take a lot of pride in that culture, and Coach K really preaches that to us,” Barefield said.
In addition, Barefield was pleased with the opportunity to play at a Pac-12 school and have a fighting chance to pursue his dreams at the next level.
All played a role in his decision to bring his game to Salt Lake City.
Upon arrival, Barefield said Krystkowiak made it clear that “You become one of us.” Barefield added that you have to fit into the program’s culture.
“I definitely think that being a program guy is a great thing, especially at Utah,” said Barefield, who credited Krystkowiak and his staff for doing a great job of preparing the players to become men and be more professional. “There’s a lot of benefits moving forward. You let go of your ego and you become a great teammate and become an even better basketball player and a person.”
Barefield finalized his decision to attend Utah over a two-week winter break at SMU.
“You want to make the right decision,” Barefield said. “You kind of reflect on your first decision that you made and how you can improve in that area and what you may have looked for that you didn’t find, or different things like that.”
Making a move, he admitted, can be scary. After all, there aren’t a lot of opportunities in Division I basketball.
Compounding the situation is the movement of others. There are hundreds of transfers each year.
“I think it’s more common in this day and age than it was before,” Barefield said. “I can’t speak for everybody else but with my situation it was a matter of fit, just as far as the basketball program as well as the style of play — different things.
“I’m sure it’s different for everybody else,” he continued.
Barefield agreed that it may be a generational thing. He said the number of transfers is high and acknowledged that expectations are high and instant gratification plays into the mix.
“It’s a lot of different things that go into those decisions,” Barefield said. “As long as kids are making the right decisions for themselves, that’s all that matters.”
The key, he explained, is the need to fit in and adjust to the culture of a program. However, it may be easier said than done.
“I think that (college basketball) is a competitive business,” Barefield said.
Monday: How transfers have impacted BYU's basketball program.