I just want to be the best player that I can be. I'm just learning. I'm learning from the veterans on the team and I'm learning from the coaches. —Kareem Storey
SALT LAKE CITY — Kareem Storey is a work in progress. The true freshman from Baltimore is showing a significant statistical improvement, however, since replacing Josh Watkins as the Utah basketball team's starting point guard.
In three games as a starter — one when Watkins was suspended earlier in the season and two since the senior was dismissed from the squad for violating team rules — Storey is averaging 10.7 points, six assists and 30.7 minutes of playing time per game.
As a non-starter, netting 19.4 minutes per game, Storey averaged 3.1 points and two assists.
Storey attributes the increase in his production to a combination of more playing time and getting on the floor fresh after warm-ups instead of coming in off the bench. Like most players, he enjoys being a starter.
"I just want to be the best player that I can be. I'm just learning. I'm learning from the veterans on the team and I'm learning from the coaches," Storey said as Utah prepares for Thursday's game at UCLA. "So I'm just trying to absorb everything in my freshman year. I'm just trying to get as much experience as I can."
Although Storey played well in last Saturday's 64-43 win over Arizona State — scoring 12 points with six assists, three rebounds, two steals and just one turnover — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak sees plenty of room for improvement.
"From a coaching perspective, I'm not satisfied. I don't think he's played that well," Krystkowiak said. "I'm not trying to be mean but ... "
Storey's stats against ASU, he noted, are a bit skewed because of the defense the Sun Devils employ.
"It's a lot easier against the zone," Krystkowiak explained. "So we need to see those same kind of numbers against a man(-to-man) team because there's not a lot of pressure being applied against the zone. You don't want to get too excited about something that hasn't been proven yet."
Even so, Krystkowiak did congratulate Storey with "a little knuckles" on the court following his performance in Utah's fifth win of the season.
"But beyond that, he's got a lot of improvement to do," Krystkowiak said while noting that goes for everyone in the program, including the staff. No one, he continued, has arrived or anything like that because the Utes still have a ways to go.
Backcourt mate Chris Hines, though, acknowledged that Storey is making strides.
"I've got to teach him a few things but he's still doing well," the junior said. "He's doing really well, passing the ball well and being a point guard. He's going to help us."
GREAT GRADES: The Runnin' Utes are hitting the books with great success this season. Their team grade point average of 3.129 this fall was the program's second-highest mark over the past 20 years. Kyle Perkins led 10 players on the Athletics Academic Honor Roll (3.0 GPAs or higher) with a perfect 4.0. David Foster, Jason Washburn and Hines are expected to earn undergraduate degrees a year early and enroll in graduate programs before finishing their playing careers.
" 'Class Counts' has been our motto since taking over here at Utah," Krystkowiak said in a released statement. "Achieving a team GPA above 3.1 is something we are very proud of. Our players and our academic staff, including Al Reiser and Colby Vranes, have worked extremely hard, and our goal is to continue this kind of academic success as we build a full-package program both on and off the court."
The program's best GPA was a 3.288 in the fall of 2008.
FOSTER TO RETURN? Although Foster has been off limits to the media since injuring his foot in an exhibition game against Adams State, the Utah center's future plans are starting to become clear.
Krystkowiak explained the situation on his weekly television show Saturday night.
"When he first got hurt, he was going to call it quits. He's expecting a baby — he and his wife — has his degree and was kind of ready for the next challenge in life," Krystkowiak said. "But I think, you know, he's starting to think that he wants to come back and have a really solid senior year.
"So he'll be out of action this year and we're going to visit about it this spring and most likely redshirt him and bring him back and try to have a good finish to his career," Krystkowiak added.
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Utes on the air
Utah (5-14, 2-5 Pac-12)
at UCLA (10-9, 3-4)
Thursday, 8:30 p.m. (MT)
Los Angeles Sports Arena
Radio: ESPN 700