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First Northwest Nazarene, now Concordia for the Runnin' Utes

Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma (35) drives down court during a game against Northwest Nazarene at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.
Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma (35) drives down court during a game against Northwest Nazarene at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.
Spenser Heaps,

SALT LAKE CITY — Kyle Kuzma made quite a case to be the new face of Utah basketball. The 6-foot-9 junior scored 23 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in Saturday’s 81-37 win over Northwest Nazarene.

Before the season-opening triumph, Kuzma acknowledged that he’s trying to be more of a leader with a lot of new faces in the program.

“If anybody needs help I just try to help them out,” said Kuzma, who is one of just two returning starters along with senior Lorenzo Bonam.

“If I can help them progress their games then that’s just going to make us better because I’ve been around for a while,” he added. “I know what it takes and what has to be done. So I think I’m pretty comfortable with where I’m at right now.”

Kuzma noted that there have a been a lot more stoppages in practices since the departure of Pac-12 Player of the Year Jakob Poeltl and graduated seniors Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker.

“It’s a lot more teaching than just playing and learning through your mistakes,” Kuzma said. “At times I’ve learned to be more patient. But it just all comes with the process of being a leader.”

Kuzma remembers getting stopped a lot in practice, too, when he joined Larry Krystkowiak’s program.

“From day one, when I committed, I told Coach K I wanted to be coached because I’d never been coached in my life. Since that day he’s been coaching my (butt) off. Freshman and sophomore year was the worst,” Kuzma said. “Even this year, I’m not making that many mistakes but I kind of want him to get on me some more sometimes like the good ‘ol days. But it’s just a process and being coachable.

“He knows what it takes. He’s been in the NBA, he’s played overseas, and that’s what I want to do,” Kuzma continued. “So I’m just trying to listen to him.”

While the Utes prepared for the season, Krystkowiak said he was pleased with Kuzma’s leadership. However, the coach was hesitant to put any kind of crown on anybody. He noted that veterans like Kuzma and Bonam “might have been spending a little too much time trying to get people up to speed.”

Krystkowiak said that’s more of a natural thing, but added that Kuzma and Bonham were good at helping others. Even so, he just wants the players to be as good as they can be right now.

“The coaching staff will get everybody on the same page and then I’ve always said that leadership kind of appears in a variety of ways,” said Krystkowiak, who expressed hope for a collective effort to improve the culture and vibe and help others out when the opportunity arises. “A lot of times the cream rises to the top.”

EXTRA STUFF: Utah is 39-3 against NCAA Division II opponents . . . Concordia opened the season with a win over CSU-Monterey Bay (80-73) and a loss to CSU-San Bernadino (85-72) . . . Redshirt freshman Jayce Johnson grabbed 14 rebounds and SLCC transfer Tyler Rawson scored 13 points against Northwest Nazarene.

*****

Concordia (1-1) at Utah (1-0)

Huntsman Center

Tuesday, 6 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700AM

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer