I couldn’t be happier with the effort that our guys are putting forth and the way they’re getting along off the court and on the court and what we’re doing in the classroom. —Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — In summarizing his tenure at Utah, head coach Larry Krystkowiak said the first season was a little bit about survival for the rebuilding Utes. The second campaign, he explained, was about trying to compete and figure out their niche in the Pac-12 — learning what they needed to do.
Now comes year No. 3.
“It’s time for us to win some games and to have some success,” Krystkowiak said during Utah’s media day gathering.
The Utes, who begin practice for the 2013-14 season on Friday, return seven players and two starters (forward Jordan Loveridge and point guard Brandon Taylor) from a squad that went 15-18 and reached the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. Six newcomers have blended well, thus far, with the group in the offseason.
So well, in fact, that Krystkowiak’s general view is that the team has an incredible work ethic and doesn’t have to be prodded much. He said eight of them ran personal bests in a two-mile run Wednesday morning.
“I couldn’t be happier with the effort that our guys are putting forth and the way they’re getting along off the court and on the court and what we’re doing in the classroom,” said Krystkowiak, who added that he likes the squad.
Besides Loveridge and Taylor, the Utes return center Dallin Bachynski, swingman Dakarai Tucker, forward Jeremy Olsen, forward Renan Lenz and forward Xan Ricketts. The new additions include three true freshmen — guard Ahmad Fields, guard Kenneth Ogbe and guard Parker Van Dyke — and junior college transfers in center Marko Kovacevic, guard/forward Princeton Onwas and guard Delon Wright.
Krystkowiak said the Utes have a lot more firepower, depth and options this year.
“I’m really confident that we’re going to be able to pick up the tempo offensively and defensively because of their commitment and also hand-in-hand with that is the fact that we’re going to be a lot deeper,” Krystkowiak said.
The path to success, Krystkowiak said, will be on the defensive end of the court. He said the Utes will be OK if everybody buys into playing defense
“The grading scale for improvement from the outside is typically number of wins. That’s the score you write down, the golf score. Nobody is really interested in the whole story. They want the number,” Krystkowiak said. “But the key for us, I think daily, is to be making some improvements and making sure we’re improving some of our deficiencies as we go on. I think that will lead to more wins. But as long as we’re continuing to make that progress, I think we’ll be happy.”
Loveridge is the top returning scorer (12.2 ppg) and rebounder (7 rpg) from a year ago. After bulking up to play power forward as a freshman, the 6-foot-6 former West Jordan star has dropped more than 20 pounds in the offseason and recently weighed in at 215 pounds. Loveridge said he did so to become more explosive and quicker off the dribble, and better equipped to guard faster opponents.
“I see Jordan being a versatile guy,” said Krystkowiak, who expects to use the sophomore at both forward spots this season.
Utah’s roster affords such flexibility.
“We have a lot more talent and we’re a lot bigger this year,” Loveridge said. “Everyone’s focused and we’re in on a common goal to win as many games as we can.”
Taylor, who averaged 8.4 points and 2.7 assists in 2012-13, agreed that this year’s team is really dedicated and on the same page. He agrees with Krystkowiak about how to achieve success.
“Hopefully we get back to how defensively sound we were last year,” Taylor said.
The start of practice has been eagerly anticipated. Returnees and newcomers are both looking forward to tipping things off.
Taylor admits to feeling antsy.
“I’m so ready just to start to get the plays down and start getting in game situations — actually just competing and actually getting this team chemistry up,” he said. “I’m so anxious. Locked and loaded.”
Ogbe of Germany simply said he was excited and couldn’t wait for Friday.
After weeks of conditioning and other workouts, the players are ready for regular practices to begin.
“We’ve been running for about a month. So I’m ready,” Fields said. “I’m in shape now. I’m ready to start practicing.”
Utah has an exhibition game at home against Saint Martin’s on Nov. 1. The Utes open the preseason a week later when Evergreen State visits the Huntsman Center.