SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah's initial basketball remodeling project is complete. With the addition of seven signees, new head coach Larry Krystkowiak and his staff have filled the Utes' 13 scholarship slots for 2011-12.
The newcomers will join four returnees from last season — David Foster, Chris Hines, Jason Washburn and Josh Watkins — plus two others with ties from the Jim Boylen era (early signee George Matthews and returning LDS Church missionary Josh Sharp) in leading Utah into its inaugural season in the Pac-12.
They'll be meshed with Krystkowiak's first recruiting class, which includes junior college transfers Javon Dawson, Dijon Farr and Cedric Martin, as well as high school signees Anthony Odunsi and Kareem Storey. Glen Dean of Eastern Washington and Aaron Dotson of LSU will practice with the Utes this season, but won't be able to play games until 2012-13 because of NCAA transfer rules.
"If you would have told me that we could have got involved with some of these guys this late in the game," Krystkowiak said, "I wouldn't have really thought it possible. So we got fortunate."
The Utes, Krystkowiak noted, added guys who signed with the program for all the right reasons.
"We want guys here that want to be here because of the whole situation," he said while pointing out such things as the city, the Pac-12, the Huntsman Center and the program's tradition.
Many of Boylen's players, however, decided to explore their options after the coaching change. Leading scorer and rebounder Will Clyburn transferred to Iowa State, while others like J.J. O'Brien and Shawn Glover received releases but have yet to commit elsewhere. Redshirt freshman Dominique Lee is in the process of doing so.
They're all out of the program now, as is Chris Kupets, Antonio DiMaria and Preston Guiot.
"We kind of just got to the point where we couldn't wait any longer," said Krystkowiak, who noted that some things dragged out into finals week and decisions had to be made — especially after a month of getting familiar with the players on the court and in the weight room.
Some of the guys, he explained, couldn't say Utah is where they wanted to stay after weeks of reflection.
"We kind of made that assumption that they were looking elsewhere," Krystkowiak said. "We kind of helped them make their decision."
Krystkowiak used an analogy of being in a relationship.
"If you want to be in a committed relationship and you want 100 percent from somebody, you can't say I'd like to break up here temporarily and go see if you can find something that's better and if I can't, then maybe can I come back," he explained. "At some point that novelty kind of wears off for us and we're ready to move forward, wish everybody well and get going in that direction."
Krystkowiak isn't surprised that Foster, Hines, Washburn and Watkins opted to stay. He knew they were guys that were in Utah's foxhole from the first meeting.
"You could see it in those guys' eyes," Krystkowiak said. "They were ready to be part of it."
Foster and Watkins are the lone seniors on next season's team, while Hines and Washburn will be juniors. The four holdovers give the new coaching staff a solid foundation to build upon.
"I don't want kids here because I told them what they wanted to hear," Krystkowiak said. "That's not an indictment on coach Boylen. I want to be part of why they're here, but not 90 percent of why they're here."
Krystkowiak has rolled out the red carpet when it comes to recruiting prospective and/or returning missionaries to the program. They're completely welcome.
"If you look at the best teams here at Utah over the years, they've always had a portion of their team that have been missionary kids," Krystkowiak said. "I think there's a toughness to a lot of the kids and a maturity level."
And that, he added, can be a great advantage in college basketball.
"We want to find good basketball players that are good people that fit into our program," Krystkowiak said. "If they are interested in going on a mission, then we are 100 percent supportive of them doing that. There's no different mindset here."
Krystkowiak really likes the two current missionaries already in the program — Sharp, a 6-foot-7, 185-pound small forward from Lone Peak High, and Jeremy Olsen, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound forward from Lawrenceville, Ga.
After watching practice film of both players, who redshirted before leaving on their missions, Krystkowiak is eager for their return. Sharp is due back for 2011-12 and Olsen for 2012-13.
This is the place
Aside from Sharp, the Utes' roster this fall is void of local players on scholarship.
It's a situation that Krystkowiak is well aware of and is anxious to fix. The first thing he did when the recruiting period opened up was to watch several in-state guys play and let them know that the Utes were interested in them. West Jordan's Jordan Loveridge is reportedly among the top targets.
"It's probably one of the top priorities that we have," said Krystkowiak, who noted that there are good players in the state and he'd like to recruit them all. "It's a building stage for us, the initial stages. There's going to be people."
Many recruits, however, are kind of taking a wait-and-see approach. They know Utah's program is down, wounded and the jury is still out.
"But, I guarantee you, with the staff we have and everything else in place around here, we're going to do it the right way," Krystkowiak said. "At the end of the day, it's going to be OK. Right now, I can see where there's some hesitancy with some guys."
That, he vows, will change.
"We're just at the beginning stages of building something special, and when we have something special built in the Pac-12 Conference — where all of our games are on TV and half our league is going to the NCAA Tournament — then I think we'll have the opportunity to have a product that may lead us to have a better chance to get some of those kids," Krystkowiak said.
In the meantime, the new coach and his staff are working hard to make it happen.
"Like my doctor used to say with all my knee surgeries," Krystkowiak concluded. "If it doesn't kill you, it'll just make you stronger."