"You are remembered for the rules you break"
— Douglas MacArthur
I'm not sure that I ever thought I would use a quote from one of the great military minds in United States history to describe a Utah basketball player, but here I am.
I'm sure that if you are reading this column that you know that Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak kicked his best player, Josh "Jiggy" Watkins, off the basketball team this week. Watkins has been a repeat offender in the breaking of team rules department. Let me say this, I've known Josh Watkins for nearly two years now, he's not a bad kid. He's a really nice kid, with an engaging personality. He also happens to struggle with following the rules set out by his head coach. What he did and how often he did it isn't really all that important anymore. I know everyone likes to know the details and what rules were broken, but the details aren't all that important in this situation.
What is important is that the head coach, who is in his first year and trying to rebuild a program that has bottomed out, deemed the violations egregious enough to remove his team's leading scorer and best player for the remainder of the season. This is called "sending a message" or "establishing a baseline for program expectations."
In other words, no one is above the rules, no matter how big or small the rules or status on the team. Krystkowiak and his staff aren't just trying to make the product on the floor better, they are attempting to change the culture of Utah basketball, which hasn't been great. Make no mistake about this: It is a move for the long run, not the short run.
The dismissal of Watkins from the basketball team will most certainly make an already-offensively challenged basketball team much more challenged when it comes to scoring points. I'm not sure how, where or if the nearly 16 points a game Watkins averaged will be made up. But some of the younger players like Kareem Storey and Anthony Odunsi will now be given the opportunity to show what they are made of and prove that they belong at the Division I level.
Both have looked like freshmen for most of this season, which means they had moments where they've excelled, but mostly have struggled to pick up the college game. Storey has shown some flashes of brilliance on defense, but will now be asked to be the primary ball handler and the guy that gets Utah into its offensive sets. Odunsi, whose minutes have diminished during Pac-12 play, will likely see his minutes jump again.
The Utah program isn't being judged on wins and losses this year, and to be fair, it probably shouldn't be judged on wins and losses for a couple of seasons. Evaluation of Larry Krystkowiak's team will come on progress and improvement.
Unless there's a clear understanding of the rules and what is expected of players in the program, there can never be progress and improvement — or more importantly wins. So the message has been sent. Now, let's see how this young team responds.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Please feel free to comment here or send me an email to [email protected]. You can also interact with me on twitter @espn700bill.
Bill Riley can be heard as the voice of the University of Utah on gamedays and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.