Utah Utes basketball: Players cautiously optimistic about new coach

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 6:28 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The players stood along the south side of the Huntsman Center Lounge by the windows Monday afternoon and listened intently as their new coach was introduced to the media and boosters before talking about his plans for the future.

A half hour later, Utah basketball players talked about their first impressions of Larry Krystkowiak. They all had good things to say, but some were reserving their full judgment until they met with him later in the afternoon.

Most of the Ute players expressed optimism about returning to the program next year with only returning leader scorer Will Clyburn expressing doubts.

Perhaps the key player most fans are concerned about returning is freshman forward J.J. O'Brien, who showed much promise as the season went along and has three years of eligibility remaining.

"I'd definitely like to stay a Ute," O'Brien said. "I committed here for a reason. But I have to find out how (Krystkowiak) is and until then I can't make any decision. But I'd definitely love to stay here."

As for Clyburn, who lead the Utes in both scoring (17.1 ppg) and rebounding (7.8) and was named second-team all-Mountain West, it's uncertain what his future plans are.

"No one really knows what their future is here," Clyburn said. "I came here to play for coach (Jim) Boylen. He recruited me and became part of my family and the team's family. I think everybody cares about him."

When asked about the possibility of transferring, Clyburn said, "I guess we'll see when I get my release. I haven't really put my name out there, because I haven't got my release yet."

When asked if that meant he was seeking a release from the program, Clyburn said, "I'll decide later on this week whether I'm going or not. I just don't know what the best thing for me is right now."

Clyburn also revealed that he had planned to redshirt last year, but played because Boylen needed him.

"So I'm kind of thinking I want to get back to my plan and sit out a year and then play my senior year," he said.

Point guard Josh Watkins, who has just one year of eligibility left, said he's likely to stay at Utah and play for Krystkowiak.

"He seems like a hard-working guy who's dedicated to basketball," Watkins said. "I heard he's a good coach from a couple of guys I talked to and that he loves basketball. I plan on having a conversation with coach and seeing what he plans to do with us and what our role will be."

Like many players, Watkins said it's been hard to see coach Boylen go.

"It's tough, because you love the coach that recruited you, but some days you have to put a change in," he said.

Sophomore center Jason Washburn said he plans to be back next year "unless something outrageous happens."

Washburn believes he and his teammates will be able to adapt well to coach Krystkowiak.

"He reminds me a lot of Coach B. when he talked about being a hard-nosed team, being tough and playing hard," Washburn said. "That's what's been here for at least a year or more that's already been imbedded in our basketball DNA. It's not like we're stepping into a whole different world."

For junior center David Foster, Krystkowiak will be his third coach since he arrived in 2004. He played a year for Ray Giacoletti before going on an LDS mission to North Carolina and for Boylen for two years.

"It's been a whirlwind for me to be honest," Foster said. "I really love coach Boylen and hate to see him leave, but you can only control so much and I'm going to try to make a good opportunity with the new coach."

Foster said he's was impressed with Krystkowiak and is looking forward to working with someone who works well with big men.

"He's very well-spoken and has great leadership abilities," Foster said. "He seems like a hard-nosed guy and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to be coached by a big guy."

Others players at the press conference included Chris Hines, Dominique Lee, Chris Kupets and Antonio DiMaria.

Foster had words of advice for players who might be looking to leave the program.

"Think about your decision," he said. "Don't look for instant gratification. Take time to realize this will affect the rest of your life if you stay or leave. Don't base it on a whim."

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