SALT LAKE CITY — Let’s get this straight right off the bat. Nobody’s saying Riley Battin is going to be another Keith Van Horn, the Utah forward who became an All-American and the school’s all-time leading scorer by the time he completed his senior season in 1997.
There are some similarities between Battin and Van Horn that are worth considering, however.
- Both players grew up on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Battin from Oak Park, northwest of L.A., and Van Horn from Diamond Bar, east of the big city.
- Both came to Utah with nearly identical measurements, both 6-foot-9 with Battin a little bulkier at 220 pounds compared to Van Horn’s 215 when he started.
- Battin is a versatile player who can battle inside, yet step outside and sink 3-pointers, much like Van Horn used to.
- Both earned spots in the Utah starting lineup as true freshmen, Van Horn back when the Utes were in the Western Athletic Conference and Battin in the Pac-12.
When asked if he’d ever heard of Van Horn, who graduated from the U. the year before he was born, Battin replied in the affirmative and said that at least a couple of people have made a comparison with him to Van Horn.
Right now their numbers are a long way from each other. Van Horn averaged 18.3 points as a freshman, when he started 25 games and shot just over 50 percent from the field. Battin is currently the fifth-leading scorer for Utah at 7.1 ppg and fourth in rebounding at 3.4 rpg. He shoots 47.1 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
Unlike Van Horn, who started from Day One in 1993, Battin didn’t start until his seventh game, but he hasn’t come out of the starting lineup since. Although he had a couple of rough games at the start of Pac-12 play, he played as well as anyone on the team in non-conference play, said coach Larry Krystkowiak. Most recently, he posted 11 points, four rebounds and four assists against Washington State.
“From all the numbers we crunch and put together, he’s been the most productive in terms of plus-minus, in terms of doing more positive things than negative things and how his teams do when they’re on the court together,” Krystkowiak said earlier this month. “He can pass, he can defend. … He’s cut of the right stuff mentally and physically, he’s super coachable and he’s got a great skill set.”
Krystkowiak said he was first impressed with Battin a few years back at one of Utah’s summer “elite” camps. He said while other players would come up with excuses not to endure as the six-hour days went along, Battin thrived.
“Riley, from start to finish, competed his butt off through that whole thing,” Krystkowiak said.
Battin averaged 24.7 ppg and 12.3 rebounds for Oak Park High, where he was Ventura County Player of the Year. He chose Utah over mostly Eastern schools, such as Davidson, Vanderbilt, Clemson and Ohio State, as well as the Pac-12's Colorado.
“I had a good relationship with the coaches and had a good vibe on campus, the players, the coaches, the area,” Battin said. “Overall it seemed like the perfect fit.”
However, it took Battin time to get acclimated to college basketball, according to his coach.
“When he came here in the summer, he looked like a fish out of water,” Krystkowiak said. “He kind of reminded me of me when I started college. It wasn’t as easy as he thought and it was actually a little bit embarrassing.
“But he took it to heart and he went home for a few weeks before he came back to school in August, and he was a better player. And a month later he was a better player.”
Battin describes himself as a team player who may not always be the flashiest guy on the court.4 comments on this story
“My versatility — how I can go inside or out,” he said when asked to describe his game. “My ability to pass. … I like to get shots for people, and feel like I have a good sense of where people are on the court.”
While he has a long way to go to get to Van Horn’s level, Battin sees him as someone to emulate.
“Hopefully I can be there someday,” he said. “My goal my whole life has been to play in the NBA.”
For now, Battin is trying to move the Utes up the Pac-12 standings beginning with Sunday afternoon’s game (4 p.m.) at home against Colorado.
“It’s a pretty open conference right now," he said. "If we keep on the grind and the process we are right now, we’ll be just fine.”