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Former Runnin’ Ute Kyle Kuzma ‘so excited’ to be drafted by the Lakers

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Utah forward Kyle Kuzma (35) drives around Stanford forward Reid Travis (22) during the second half in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah forward Kyle Kuzma (35) drives around Stanford forward Reid Travis (22) during the second half in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Rick Bowmer, AP

It’s going to be pretty exciting to learn from those guys and be around Magic Johnson and Luke Walton. – Kyle Kuzma

SALT LAKE CITY — Kyle Kuzma extended the University of Utah’s streak of first-round picks in the NBA Draft to three years. The 6-foot-9, 221-pound forward, who opted to forego his senior season with the Utes, was taken 27th overall by the Brooklyn Nets. They did so, however, on behalf of the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a trade.

“I’m so excited, man. I don’t really have too many words,” Kuzma said. “It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”

Kuzma added that throughout the process he was aware that some folks thought he wouldn’t get drafted or be a second-round pick.

“But I believed in myself from day one and it prevailed,” Kuzma said. “My work ethic and what I did at workouts and at the combine and it paid off.”

Going to L.A., he acknowledged, is going to be fun. With the Lakers, he’ll join fellow first-round draftees Lonzo Ball of UCLA and Josh Hart of Villanova.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting to learn from those guys and be around Magic Johnson and Luke Walton,” said Kuzma, who is also looking forward to working with assistant coaches like Brian Shaw. “So I’m ready to bust my butt and get after it, just work hard. That’s what I did at Utah, work hard. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Kuzma was welcomed to the Lakers’ organization on telephone calls from the ownership group, Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and Walton.

“It was everybody,” he said.

Kuzma follows former teammates Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl as consecutive NBA first-round selections. Wright and Poeltl went to the Toronto Raptors in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The only other time Utah had players go in the first round for three straight years was when Keith Van Horn (1997), Michael Doleac (1998) and Andre Miller (1999) were taken.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a blessing to be involved with a program like this. I’ve known about the history for a long time and to see it all come to fruition here for some of our student-athletes . . . that’s the key,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It’s not about us. It’s always been about our team and I know there’s a lot of Utes that are excited — former, present and hopefully future Utes that want to be a part of this. To use a quote I’ve talked about for six years now: ‘It’s a great day to be a Ute’ and God bless Kyle Kuzma.'”

Prior to the draft, Krystkowiak noted that Kuzma has “grown so much” since he first saw the “tall, skinny and skilled kid that had a lot of confidence” in Philadelphia on a recruiting trip.

Although Krystkowiak was there to see another player, Kuzma quickly became someone the Utes wanted. Krystkowiak credits assistant coach DeMarlo Slocum for doing a great job of recruiting him.

At Utah, Krystkowiak admits it wasn’t an easy road for Kuzma. The coach was hard on him for the first two years because he knew there was something special about him. Krystkowiak is grateful Kuzma appreciated it and trusted the process.

Kuzma, he added, is a pretty cerebral player that understands the game on both sides of the ball. Krystkowiak noted that the way Utah defends the pick-and-roll and throws the kitchen sink at guys — along with the terminology — should transfer well to the NBA.

“I think they’re getting a guy that has continued to improve every year,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s speculation, but there’s no doubt in my mind had he come back for another year here we would have seen some great improvement.

“Since he’s not here I think you’re still going to see potential for improvement at the next level,” Krystkowiak continued. “He’s a gym rat. He’s a really good kid.”

Kuzma left his tough times in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to earn a bachelor’s degree and first-team All-Pac-12 recognition at Utah, averaging 16.4 points and 9.3 rebounds as a junior. He appeared in 96 games for the Utes from 2014-17, scoring 966 points and grabbing 532 rebounds.

“It’s a heck of a story. Each of our kids that graduate have a heck of a story,” Krystkowiak said. “But it’s always neat when you know the hardships that he’s gone through growing up. Things weren’t perfect and he just kept battling.”

Getting drafted, the coach added, is a dream come true for Kuzma.

Krystkowiak said he was “super, super excited for Kyle.” He spoke with a lot of teams and had a genuine feeling from the Lakers that Kuzma would end up there.

Kuzma is the 12th player in program history to be a first-round pick — joining Billy McGill (1962), Jerry Chambers (1966), Mike Sojourner (1974), Danny Vranes (1981), Tom Chambers (1981) and Andrew Bout (2005), as well as Van Horn, Doleac, Miller, Wright and Poeltl.